May 13, 2013 / 1:10 PM / in 5 years

UPDATE 4-H&M, others back new Bangladesh factory safety accord

* Other brands have until May 15 deadline to join accord
    * Death toll at 1,127 as recovery operation nears end
    * Deal to involve financial commitment to improve safety
    * Wal-Mart, Gap also involved in fire and building safety

    By Veronica Ek and Clare Kane
    STOCKHOLM/MADRID, May 13 (Reuters) - The world's two biggest
fashion retailers, Inditex and H&M, along with
several other companies have backed an accord aimed at
preventing another disaster like last month's  Bangladesh
factory building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people.
    The agreement on fire and building safety, which is being
led by the International Labour Organisation, trade unions and
other lobby groups, has been under negotiation since the Rana
Plaza building collapse on April 24. 
    Deadly incidents at factories, including a fire in November
that killed 112 people, has focused global attention on safety
standards in Bangladesh's booming garment industry, the world's
biggest exporter of clothing after China.
    As of Monday, Inditex, H&M, U.S. apparel maker PVH Corp
, Britain's Tesco and Primark, and COFRA
Holding AG's C&A announced their support. German retailer Tchibo
also agreed to the plan, according to IndustriALL Global Union,
which has been driving the negotiations to get brands to sign up
for the agreement.
    IndustriALL said it hoped for several more brands to join by
a May 15 deadline set after talks in Germany last month with
major brands and retailers. IndustriALL declined to comment
before Wednesday's deadline on a total financial commitment for
the project, but said "it is a substantial amount, enough to
make a difference."
    Swedish fashion retailer H&M, which is a major purchaser of
garments from Bangladesh but did not use any of the suppliers
operating in the collapsed factory, said the five-year accord
would add to its already strict requirements for suppliers.
    "We hope for a broad coalition of signatures in order for
the agreement to work effectively on ground," H&M head of
sustainability Helena Helmersson said in a statement.
    H&M said the agreement would also need to align with an
action plan agreed by the Bangladesh government, industry
associations and trade unions to reach all 5,000 factories. It
declined to give details of any financial commitment.
    Zara owner Inditex, the world's largest clothing
retailer, said it also supported the agreement. "The accord has
not come out yet, but as you know we have played a very active
part in its development," a spokesman said.
    PVH, whose brands include Calvin Klein, said it would commit
up to $2.5 million to underwrite the program set to be financed
by the participating companies. PVH was the first company to
agree to a memorandum of understanding on Bangladeshi safety
issues last year, followed by Germany's Tchibo.
    Britain's Tesco said it would create a fund of 1 million
pounds ($1.53 million) to support improvements across the
industry in Bangladesh, among other efforts it will pursue.
    "Tesco did not use factories in the Rana Plaza building, but
we are all responsible for ensuring we prevent another tragedy,"
Tesco Group Commercial Director Kevin Grace said in a statement.
    A spokesman for IndustriALL said the final draft of the deal
would only be published on Wednesday but included strengthening
workers' rights, training and brands making a financial
commitment relative to the size of their business in Bangladesh.
    IndustriALL said last week the accord involves a coordinated
system of inspections, training and financial commitments from
retailers as well as giving workers the power to refuse
dangerous work.
    As salvage workers neared the end of their search for
victims on Monday, Bangladesh's cabinet paved the way for
parliament to allow garment workers to form trade unions without
prior approval from factory owners. 
    Other big brands involved in the fire and building safety
talks include Wal-Mart and Gap Inc, which said
last year it would launch its own safety programme.
    Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, did not say whether
it plans to sign the accord. The company said that it is working
with various parties "to come to an appropriate resolution" and
"develop broad-based solutions for the industry."
    Gap did not immediately comment on Monday.
    Avaaz, a global advocacy organization, said now that H&M had
committed to the plan, its campaign to push retailers to join in
would now focus on Gap and Wal-Mart. The group's online petition
pushing for a Bangladesh fire and building safety agreement had
more than 923,000 signatures by Monday.
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