Companies adopt safety plan for Bangladesh factories

But US retailers go their own way

A garment factory collapsed at this site in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 24, killing 1,129 people.
A.M.Ahad/Associated Press
A garment factory collapsed at this site in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 24, killing 1,129 people.

NEW YORK — A group of primarily European retailers and clothing makers plans to inspect factories in Bangladesh that make garments for the companies within the next nine months and will concentrate renovations on those that pose the biggest safety threat.

The 70 companies include Swedish retailer H&M, Italian clothing maker Benetton, and French retailer Carrefour.

Under the companies’ agreement, they are required to pay administrative costs for the inspections, training, and other programs. They are also responsible for ensuring that ‘‘sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements.’’


The details of the five-year pact came after negotiations with worker rights’ groups and other organizations on how the plan should be carried out. The plan, announced in mid-May, initially had about 30 companies signing on. The plan covers anywhere from 800 to about 1,000 of the 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh.

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‘‘Our mission is clear: to ensure the safety of all workers in the Bangladesh garment industry,’’ said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, a Geneva-based labor union.

Stores and clothing makers face increasing pressure to step up oversight of Bangladeshi factories following a building collapse in April that killed 1,129 workers. The deadliest acccident in the history of the garment industry, it came months after a fire in another garment factory in Bangladesh in November killed 112 workers.

Only a handful of US companies have committed to the global pact; they include PVH Corp., the parent of Tommy Hilfiger, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Many US merchants say they were averse to signing the pact because it would expose them to unlimited liability.


Instead, Walmart, Gap, and others are part of a coalition of US merchants and garment makers developing an alternative plan. Details are expected Wednesday.

As part of the plan pushed by IndustriALL and other groups, if a factory is identified as an immediate threat, the owner will be told to cease operations, pending investigation or repairs.

With the involvement of unions, workers will be informed of potential dangers and their right to refuse to enter a potentially unsafe building. A viable plan with renovations and repairs will be produced, and workers will be paid while the factory is closed.

The group will develop plans that focus on factories with immediate risks like inadequate exits and structural flaws.

According to the Worker Rights Consortium, one of the groups involved in the negotiations, the annual administrative cost per company is up to $500,000 per year.


How much it will cost for repairs and renovations won’t be known until all of the factories are inspected, the group said. But based on consultations with fire and building safety experts, the group speculated that the cost could run $600,000 per factory.

All 70 companies have been asked to send in data about factories they use by July 15. The information includes names, addresses, and the physical layout of the facilities.

The inspection reports will be made public.

Six executive members of the steering committee have been elected, including officials of IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union, and the Bangladesh Council of Trade Unions, as well as representatives of companies that have signed on to the pact.

They include Inditex, N. Brown Group, and PVH Corp.

The International Labor Organization has designated a senior representative to serve as chairperson.

The group has also begun to recruit both the chief safety inspector and the executive director.