July 8 (Bloomberg) -- A group of 70 retailers, including Inditex SA and Hennes & Mauritz AB, reached an agreement with labor unions on inspecting factories in Bangladesh within nine months as part of a fire and building safety accord set up after the worst industrial accident in the country’s history.
The implementation of the five-year agreement involves comprehensive inspections to identify “grave hazards and need for urgent repairs,” the IndustriALL Global Union said in a statement on its website. The deal will cover all plants producing for the brands that have signed the agreement, opening them all up for safety inspections and further measures.
“This historic, legally binding accord will effect tangible change on the ground and help make the Bangladeshi garment industry safe and sustainable,” IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina said in the statement.
In the past seven years, 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires and building collapses, according to Geneva-based IndustriALL. The Bangladeshi safety agreement was announced in May after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in April that killed more than 1,100 people.
The hiring process has begun for the chief safety inspector and executive director positions, the union said today.
H&M, which in May became the first brand to sign the accord initiated by IndustriALL and UNI Global Union, said the direct involvement of workers in the factories is key to the success of the agreement. By involving local unions, factory workers will be informed of any potential danger and their right to refuse to enter a potentially unsafe building, Stockholm-based H&M said in a statement.
“This joint effort is a credible and effective program with a genuine commitment from all parties to work together,” Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability, said in the statement. “This is an important step to bring about long-term, sustainable change to the garment industry in Bangladesh.”
The 70 companies that have signed on to the May accord have each pledged at least $500,000 a year to fund safety monitoring in the country over the next five years, excluding the cost of improving the factories. Bringing factories in Bangladesh up to safety standards will cost $3 billion, the Worker Rights Consortium has estimated.
The Clean Clothes Campaign advocacy group said the agreement has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of Bangladeshi garment workers.
“We welcome the strong commitment from brands to improving health and safety in Bangladeshi garment factories,” Ben Vanpeperstraete, a coordinator at the campaign, said in an online statement.
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