Finally some good news on Bangladeshi Garment Sector

Finally some good news on Bangladeshi Garment Sector

Two groups of retailers — one dominated by American companies, the other by European brands — announced on Wednesday that they had agreed on joint inspection standards for thousands of garment factories in Bangladesh as part of their effort to improve workplace safety there.

The American-led group, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, comprises 26 retailers, and the European-dominated group, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, with more than 100 members, said that the new agreement was considerably tougher than the previous standards used by many individual retailers and by the Bangladeshi government.

“I think it’s great — we had very productive meetings,” said Brad Loewen, the chief safety inspector for the accord, whose members include H&M, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour. “These standards are very robust, but also reasonable and will make a big difference in the safety of garment factories in Bangladesh.”

The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and the International Labor Organization participated in the talks to develop the new standards and they, too, agreed on them.

Mr. Loewen said the new standards required sprinkler systems in all garment buildings at least 28 meters, or 92 feet, tall — essentially seven or eight stories. He said the standards required fire doors between exit stairways and the production and storage areas. In addition, the requirements for fire alarms will be far more uniform and stringent.

Jeffrey Krilla, the president of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which includes Walmart, Gap, Kohl’s and Target, praised the new standards, saying they were based largely on a proposal his alliance put forward.

“Having harmonized standards is very important,” he said. “The standards we’ve reached are above the national building and safety standards that Bangladesh has.”

The two groups were formed after the Rana Plaza factory building collapse on April 24, in which more than 1,100 workers died. After that disaster, labor and consumer groups and many political leaders put intense pressure on European and American retailers to do more to assure factory safety in Bangladesh.

The members of the European-dominated accord have released the names of more than 1,600 Bangladeshi apparel factories that its members use; the American-led alliance has disclosed the names of 686 factories there.

The two sides say there is overlap of at least 300 factories used by their members. Officials involved in the talks said it would be maddening for Bangladeshi factory owners if they had to deal with two different standards for fire and building safety.

“We feel this will raise the bar,” Mr. Krilla said.

The two groups of retailers have said that their safety experts will do thorough inspections of all their factories by next summer.

“We’ll focus much more on getting it right than on quantity,” Mr. Loewen said.

On Monday tensions emerged between the two groups. An official from one of the accord’s members voiced fears that the European-led group’s binding commitment to help pay for needed safety upgrades would enable American retailers to avoid helping pay for improvements.

Mr. Krilla said freeloading was out of the question, noting that the alliance’s members planned to provide up to $100 million in low-cost loans to help Bangladesh factory owners finance safety improvements when violations are found.


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