As a large global company, we have responsibilities for all of our 177,000 employees — but also for the 1.6 million textile workers employed by our suppliers. We want everyone to be treated with respect and work in a safe and healthy environment.
H&M Group has been managing these issues for more than 20 years, constantly moving closer to our ambition to become a Fair and Equal company. As with many other brands, we don’t own the factories — instead, we collaborate with around 1,300 suppliers, representing 2,400 factories that also produce for other brands.
Securing good working conditions
We are careful when entering new partnerships and committed to choosing partners who share our respect for people and the environment, and who are willing to work with us to improve their practices. Our employees in our production offices work directly with our business partners to form good relations, assess their performance against our Sustainability Commitment (see below), and support them in making improvements through various programmes and activities. Not only do they have close relationships with our business partners, but also with non-governmental organisations, experts, stakeholders and local governments. This gives them insight into the challenges involved and an understanding of how to drive improvements locally. Once we form a partnership, we work together with the supplier to improve their sustainability performance through training and capacity building. Sustainability performance is an important factor when deciding which suppliers to do business with.
The Sustainability Commitment
What started as the Code of Conduct in 1997, has become part of a larger initiative: The Sustainability Commitment, finalised in 2016. The Commitment outlines our requirements when it comes to Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Ecosystems and Animal Welfare, but also how we can work together to improve sustainability in our value chain. Before engaging with a business partner, we conduct assessments that all partners must pass in order to work with us. But there’s also an aspirational level of performance added to the commitment to encourage our partners to strive for ambitious results that exceed our fundamental requirements. All our business partners, in every part of our value chain, must follow this commitment, so that we have a shared vision for sustainability.
Good relations are great for business, but we don’t assess our business partners just because we want to keep an eye on them — it’s also a great (and successful!) way to constantly improve, collaborate and push ourselves to become a better company. We see that when these requirements are fulfilled, both fundamental and aspirational, it’s also beneficial for the suppliers since the workers become more engaged in their work and tend to stay with the company for longer.
Our Sustainability Commitment is used by all brands within the H&M Group.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
H&M Group is committed to contributing to fire, building and electrical safety in our supply chain. We were one of the first signatories of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which was signed in 2013. It was an agreement between the international trade union IndustriALL Global Union and more than 200 apparel brands and retailers to make fire, electrical and structural improvements in the Bangladesh ready-made garment industry.
Under the Accord, all factories producing for Accord signatory companies, including H&M Group, undergo independent regular fire, electrical and structural safety inspections. These inspection reports, as well as the corrective action plans (CAPs) are then disclosed publicly to ensure full transparency and accountability.
Since the Accord started its work in 2013, the textile industry in Bangladesh has gone through a remarkable change with regards to workers’ safety. The Accord covered over 1,600 factories in Bangladesh, representing over 2 million workers. Since it began, over 38,000 inspections of factories have been carried out and over 1,200 Accord-covered factories have invested significantly to implement over 90% of the issues identified in their Corrective Actions Plans. Working on the ground in Bangladesh, the progress that has been made is evident to us.
The initial 5-year agreement came to an end in 2018, but its successful work was extended 3 further years through the 2018 Transition Accord Agreement. This renewed agreement gave continuity to the work achieved and recognized that, at the end of the 3-year period, the work would be handed over to a national regulatory body.
In May 2020, the Accord operations in Bangladesh were transferred to the then newly founded RMG Sustainability Council (RSC). This is a Bangladesh not-for-profit organization with tripartite governance structures and equal representation on the board of directors of international brands, trade unions and suppliers. This RSC adopted all Accord protocols and articles and will maintain operations once the Transition Accord ends in May 2021. In collaboration with all stakeholders, we aim to secure the continued success of the RSC.
We want to continue to involve a wide range of actors pushing for change in the entire textile industry in Bangladesh, not only the factories producing for H&M Group. With this, we are able — together with other companies, global trade unions, employers’ organisations and the Bangladeshi government — to actively influence and contribute to improved workplace safety in the textile industry.