A number of big family-controlled businesses have signed an agreement to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh following the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory that killed more than 1000 workers.
H&M, founded by the Persson family, was one of the first to sign the agreement that was drawn up by two international trade unions, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union. It has more of its products made in Bangladesh than any other fashion retailer, but was not implicated in the Rana Plaza disaster.
The agreement is a programme of fire safety reforms, independent inspections, worker-led health and safety committees and will also give unions access to factories.
Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability at H&M, said in a statement: "Fire and building safety are extremely important issues for us and we put a lot of effort and resources within this area."
H&M's announcement was followed by a similar pledge from Inditex, the parent company of Zara – the clothing chain founded by Amancio Ortega.
Primark, part of the Weston family's Associated British Foods, also signed the accord. It had been commissioning goods from a factory in the Rana Plaza at the time of its collapse, and has already pledged to supply survivors and the families of victims with long-term aid.
If any of the signatories were to breach the agreement, the company would first be subject to an arbitration process involving all relevant parties – the company, factory and the trade union – to try and resolve the issue. If this failed the company would be subject to a judicial process in the country it is based in, for example Sweden for H&M or Spain for Inditex.
However, a spokesperson for IndustriALL, told CampdenFB that the union didn't expect to ever go through this process. "All the signatories have signed in good faith, and if they weren't committed to it they wouldn't have signed," he said.
Phillip Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union, said in a statement: "The clock is ticking for companies such as Gap and Carrefour to show they care about their Bangladeshi supplier workforce. Their corporate reputations may be on the line but more importantly, so are the lives and livelihoods of these vulnerable factory workers in Bangladesh."