Around 70 of the world’s top retailers have pledged to inspect their factories in Bangladesh and ensure any unsafe buildings are renovated or repaired.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which follows the death of 1,129 workers following the collapse of Rana Plaza in April, has been signed by a large number of European brands such as Inditex, H&M and Primark, as well as local and international trade unions and NGOs.
Under the pact, which was finalised earlier this week, key apparel brands will conduct initial inspections of all of their factories in Bangladesh within nine months to identify any life-threatening hazards and the need for urgent repairs.
The focus of these inspections will revolve around emergency infrastructure and procedures (e.g. fire exits, fire training, evacuation) and flaws which could lead to total structural failure of the building.
The brands will also submit details of their suppliers in the country by July 15 – a list which will subsequently be made public.
"The terms of reference and the rules of the accord are set in place, we can now identify the best people and put together the team in Bangladesh who will be charged with carrying out this vital work" UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings says.
The latest moves follow the collapse of the Rana Plaza in April, which focused worldwide attention on unsafe buildings housing many thousands of garment manufacturing workers in Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, a prestigious Dhaka based engineering university reported finding that nine out of ten garment plants in the country were unsafe structures and that many were built without qualified engineers.
Whilst many European retailers have signed on to the new agreement, there is disappointment that key US retailers including Walmart and Gap have not, opting instead for self-regulation.
UNI Global Union, which represents around 20 million service workers in 150 countries, refers to an factory auditing program recently announced by the two companies as ‘toothless’ and a ‘pale imitation of the Accord.
In Australia, the list of signatories includes Kmart, Target, Cotton On and Forever New but does not include Big W, Coles and Rivers – all of which have operations in Bangladesh.
According to media reports, Big W has expressed its intention to sign on whilst Coles says it has negligible remaining operations in the country.