* Companies to pool data on factories for first time
* Initial inspections due within nine months
* Brands agree to help fund safety improvements
* Officials meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss safety and
By Emma Thomasson
ZURICH, July 8 A group of mainly European
retailers has finalised 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
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 galvanised 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 and H&M, which have agreed
to accept legal responsibility for safety at their Bangladesh
But a number of U.S. chains, including Wal-Mart, Gap
, Macy's, Sears and JC Penney,
have shunned the deal, saying that it gives labour unions too
much control over ensuring workplace safety and have proposed a
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
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
About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh's clothing
sector, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter
behind China. The industry employs mostly women, some of whom
earn as little as $38 a month.
Bangladesh has pledged to improve safety, but it has not
pledged new money to relocate dangerous buildings.
"Brand signatories are responsible to ensure that sufficient
funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety
improvements," Monday's report said.
Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer and one
of the accord signatories, last month said that it has stopped
sourcing clothes from a Bangladesh site because of safety
North American retailers and trade associations are believed
to be putting the finishing touches on their own Bangladesh
safety agreement. Jason Grumet, president of the Washington
think-tank helping to coordinate the effort, last month said the
process was on track to be completed in July.
European, Bangladeshi and U.S. officials will meet in Geneva
on Monday for talks aimed at improving safety conditions and
discussing the country's trade benefits, which the EU has
threatened to suspend.
Tax concessions offered by Western countries and the low
wages paid by the manufacturers have helped to turn Bangladesh's
garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry, with 60
percent of clothes going to Europe.
In late June, U.S. President Barack Obama cut off U.S. trade
benefits for Bangladesh in a mostly symbolic response to
conditions in the country's garment sector, given that clothing
is not eligible for U.S. duty cuts.