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North American Retailers Propose Safety Standards for Bangladesh FactoriesFriday, May 17, 2013 > 11:13:12
(Journal of Commerce)
The North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group, a collaboration of five U.S. and Canadian apparel and retail associations, has outlined a set of proposals to further its commitment to improving worker safety in Bangladesh, in the wake of recent accidents at apparel production facilities in the South Asian nation.
The Safer Factories Initiative includes short, medium and long-term strategic goals to improve the safety of those garment production facilities and workers. It would cover all apparel factories in the country and proposes training programs for electricians and engineers to ensure proper building safety standards are met, as well as training for workers and factory management on fire prevention and workplace safety.
The initiative also calls for buyers to work in conjunction with the Bangladeshi government, Bangladeshi factory owners and Bangladeshi workers to develop an industry standard on fire and building safety and conduct assessments of all factories based on those standards. The long-term goals aim to address the evolving safety needs of workers in Bangladesh and include mechanisms to establish "Fire and Building Safety Compliant" factories; enforcement of building and safety codes; and sustainable funding for training, upgrades of existing factories and new construction.
The initiative follows a split between major U.S. and European retailers on how to ensure worker safety in Bangladesh.
U.S. retailers, including Gap, declined to endorse an agreement – the IndustriALL Accord on Fire Building and Safety in Bangladesh – backed by some of Europe’s biggest fashion chains, including Benetton, Marks & Spencer, H&M and Inditex, among others, Reuters reports. Gap said it was ready to sign on, but first wanted a change in the way disputes are resolved in courts. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has announced that it will conduct safety inspections at all 279 of its Bangladesh suppliers, according to IndustryWeek. It also said it was hiring Bureau Veritas to conduct fire safety training for all of its workers at Bandlesh suppliers and will contract Labor Voices to help maintain its factory standards.
However, Wal-Mart said it was not yet prepared to join the safety pact, arguing that the deal would involve requirements that would impede regular business while not advancing safety. "While we agree with much of the proposal, the IndustriALL plan also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals," Wal-Mart said to an IndustryWeek reporter. "Since the IndustriALL accord affords a 45-day discussion period, Wal-Mart looks forward to participating in the continued discussion. If the issues with the accord could be addressed, Wal-Mart would be pleased to join the effort."