H&M makes rights pledge to 1.6 mn textile workers
today Nov 3, 2015
Swedish retail giant H&M on Tuesday signed an agreement promising better labour rights for 1.6 million garment workers at its suppliers' factories.
The deal, reached with international union IndustriALL Global Union and Sweden's IF Metall union, covers workers employed in 1,900 factories in "countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkey", the three organisations said in a statement.
It includes the right to unionise, refuse to work in dangerous conditions and bargain collectively for better salaries.
Rights groups regularly denounce the global textile industry for poor protection of its workers, nearly two thirds of whom are women.
In a disaster that cast a spotlight on poor rights and lax standards in the sector, more than 1,100 people were killed when Bangladesh's Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013.
The tragedy at the complex, which produced clothing for various international chains, prompted sweeping reforms including new safety inspections and higher wages.
H&M was not supplied by the factory but signed a deal in 2013 with IndustriALL and Western competitors such as Zara to boost the safety of Bangladeshi factories, and a rights deal the following year with the International Labour Organization.
While the Swedish chain says it chooses its suppliers carefully, it has acknowledged the difficulties of keeping a close eye on the factories that churn out its millions of garments.
"Achieving 100 percent compliance with all our requirements amongst all our suppliers is a challenge," H&M said in its 2014 Sustainability Report.
"Major challenges are health and safety, excessive overtime, wages, freedom of association and industrial relations."
In a separate development, Indian and Bangladeshi unions were on Tuesday due to present demands to Inditex's Zara in Germany, including that the company ensure that workers at suppliers have the right to organise.
Germany's Verdi union, which coordinated the action, said in a statement that 19-hour working days, unsafe factories and low wages were part of "every-day exploitation" in the global textile industry. "Multinational clothing companies must bear the responsibility for such conditions," Verdi said.
Inditex, which unlike H&M produces its clothes itself, the bulk of it in Spain, was not immediately available for comment.
Seen by many as relatively active on social sustainability work, H&M was an early signatory of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a Western clothing brands and organisations initiative launched after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers.
H&M has also been said to do too little. Last month Clean Clothes Campaign and three other groups said it was dramatically behind in correcting dangers at Bangladeshi suppliers. H&M said it didn't recognise itself in the description.
AFP with Reuters
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