Global brands commit to Bangladesh safety pact


Global fashion brands such as Benetton, Carrefour and Marks & Spencer on Tuesday committed to abide by an agreement to improve working conditions in Bangladeshi factories after a plant in Savar collapsed killing more than 1,100 people.

The announcements came after clothing giants Inditex of Spain and H&M of Sweden said on Monday they were signing up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety following the disaster at a garment factory that supplied Western retailers.

The agreement, which is due to be formally signed in the coming days, commits retailers to paying for factory repairs and ensuring an efficient system for building and fire safety inspection.

“We recognize the need for a safer garment industry in Bangladesh,” said Krishan Hundal, director of sourcing at Britain’s Marks & Spencer.

“All our suppliers must adhere to our strict ethical standards as a condition of working with us,” including regular safety checks and the use of single occupancy factories, Hundal said.

Marks & Spencer buys from around 60 factories in Bangladesh.

The pact with the union federations IndustriALL and UNI, which represent tens of millions of garment industry workers, is overseen by the United Nations International Labor Organization.

Activists had set May 15 as a deadline for signing.

The full list of signatories has yet to be revealed, but U.S.-based PVH, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and Germany’s Tchibo, were among the first to back it, according to antisweatshop network The Clean Clothes Campaign.

French retail giant Carrefour, British supermarket Tesco and Canadian fashion chain Joe Fresh also backed the scheme late Tuesday.

However, the world’s largest retailer, U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, said it was “not in a position” to sign up to the IndustriALL plan.

Wal-Mart argued that while the scheme contained some useful initiatives, it “also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are . . . necessary to achieve fire and safety goals.”

Wal-Mart instead announced in-depth safety inspections of all 279 of its Bangladesh suppliers, and ordered its production stopped at facilities “where urgent safety issues are identified.”

Some of the garment factories destroyed in the collapse reportedly supplied Wal-Mart.

The accord is a five-year commitment by all stakeholders toward improving working conditions in the garment industry.

Details are still due to be released later by all the parties involved but signatories have begun revealing some of the measures.

The plan, which was first launched in 2012, includes appointing an independent chief inspector to “design and implement a fire safety inspection program that is credible and effective.”

It also requires qualified experts to “complete a full and rigorous review of current building standards and regulations” for garment manufacturers.