Walmart checks Bangladesh factories; retailer accord elusive

Tue May 14, 2013 11:02pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc stepped up Bangladesh factory inspections while U.S. and European retailers pursued separate accords to try to prevent another disaster in a garment industry where more than 1,200 workers have died in the past six months.

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, said it does not plan to sign a fire and building safety agreement backed by some of Europe's biggest apparel brands because it believes its own safety inspection plans will get faster results.

Wednesday is the deadline for retailers to decide whether to join the consortium, led by labor groups such as Europe's IndustriALL.

Other U.S. retailers including Gap Inc said they would not join the European pact without changes in the way conflicts are resolved in the courts. U.S. companies have been reluctant to join any industry accord that creates legally binding objectives.

"Walmart believes its safety plan meets or exceeds the IndustriALL proposal, and will get results more quickly," the U.S. retailer said in a statement on Tuesday.

Walmart has begun checking the 279 factories that supply its stores, and plans to inspect them all within six months. Its checks have already turned up two locations with safety problems and it asked the Bangladesh government to suspend production at those factories.

In Chittagong, about 250 kms (15 miles) from Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, workers at one factory that Walmart wants closed said they were unaware of any safety concerns and business was proceeding as usual. Company officials at Stitch Tone Garments Ltd said they were no longer making clothes for Walmart, but did not say who they were currently supplying.

"We don't know about the problems of our owners. We don't know about the risk of building. We are working for our livelihood. If we stop the work, we cannot survive," said one of the workers, Parvin Akter.   Continued...

The clothing tag on a boy's shirt by Wal-Mart's brand Faded Glory, which is made in Bangladesh, is shown after purchase from a Walmart store in Encinitas, California, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake