This morning it was announced that H&M will sign the binding Fire and Building Safety Agreement protecting garment workers in Bangladesh.
This decision to sign the agreement follows the tragic events that occurred in Bangladesh last week when the massive housing building Rana Plaza collapsed, taking the lives of approximately 1,126 employees.
“H&M’s decision to sign the accord is crucial. They are the single largest producer of apparel in Bangladesh, ahead even of Wal-Mart. This accord now has tremendous momentum,” said Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, in Women's Wear Daily.
He added the agreement is one that PVH (Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) and German retailer Tchibo have already signed on to.
Organizations such as United Students Against Sweatshops have called on major brands including H&M, Wal-Mart, Children's Place and Gap to sign the agreement.
"The agreement is a binding agreement between unions and brands to ensure safe work places," said Garrett Shishido Strain, international campaigns coordinator of USAS. "It will require public, independent inspections of factories for fire and building safely, it will require brands to put money on the table to make their factories safe, and we believe very strongly that the best workplace safely program is a collective voice for workers through a union."
Rep. George Miller, the senior Democratic member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, who has been working in Congress to fight sweatshops and improve working conditions in factories, also stressed that the onus lies with major fashion brands, not just the Bangladeshi government.
“Right now, [these retailers] must join other brands, unions and civil society groups in [signing on to the Fire and Building Safety Agreement] and begin the very affordable process of making their supplier factories safer. If they fail to sign an enforceable agreement, they are declaring that they accept blood on their labels.”
Although the news of H&M signing on is a major victory, there's no time to stop and celebrate for USAS, which is continuing its efforts.
“We’re doing actions at Gap stores in over a dozen cities," said Strain. "We’re targeting the Gap primarily because in 2010, 29 workers were burned alive at a Gap supplier factory in Bangladesh. After the fire the Gap had a chance to do the right thing and make a commitment to the safety of its workers by signing the binding Bangladesh Fire and Safety agreement with the Bangladeshi Union, but instead they announced their own self-regulatory fire safety program. That, in our opinion, does more to protect the company than the lives of its workers. Hundreds of workers have died in subsequent fire and building collapses and the Gap, of all the companies, has the blood of these worker’s deaths on their hands."
Get involved: At gapdeathtraps.com people can find information about what’s happened in Bangladesh and how they can take action demanding retailers sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Agreement.