Retailers plan Bangladesh factory inspections under safety pact

Sun Jul 7, 2013 6:07pm EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

ZURICH (Reuters) - A group of mainly European retailers has finalized a plan to conduct coordinated inspections of factories in Bangladesh in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,129 people in April.

The collapse of Rana Plaza, a factory built on swampy ground outside Dhaka, on April 24 ranks among the world's worst industrial accidents and has galvanized brands to look more closely at their suppliers.

The new accord was launched by trade unions in May and signed by 70 brands, including the world's two biggest fashion retailers, Inditex (ITX.MC: Quote) and H&M (HMb.ST: Quote), which have agreed to accept legal responsibility for safety at their Bangladesh factories.

But a number of U.S. chains, including Wal-Mart (WMT.N: Quote), Gap (GPS.N: Quote), Macy's (M.N: Quote), Sears (SHLD.O: Quote) and JC Penney (JCP.N: Quote), have shunned the deal, saying that it gives labor unions too much control over ensuring workplace safety and have proposed a non-binding initiative.

The largely European plan, coordinated by Switzerland-based unions IndustriALL and UNI Global, involves the creation of a team of inspectors to evaluate fire, electrical, structural and worker safety in factories supplying signatory brands.

In a report published on Monday, the implementation team said that all 70 signatory brands had to provide full details of the Bangladesh factories from which they source goods - the first time such data would be collected or shared in such a comprehensive way.

Every factory will undergo an initial inspection within the next nine months, with repairs initiated where necessary and a process put in place to allow companies or workers to report problems with buildings that pose an immediate risk.

Employees were forced to go to work at Rana Plaza even after huge cracks appeared in the walls a day before the building collapsed.   Continued...

Women work at a garment factory in Savar July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj