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Retailers Begin Bangladesh Safety Project

Clothing retailers are teaming up to improve working conditions in Bangladesh in advance of a legally-binding government-private sector safety agreement that wont be fully operational until the fall.

Experts have been hired by the retailers to conduct safety inspections of factory buildings in which their clothing is manufactured.  Inspections will also be made under the government’s program, but not immediately.

Pressure on retailers to improve conditions in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,100 people, has prompted these new concerns with worker safety.

In June an inspection of a Liberty Fashion Wears, Ltd. four-story factory in Savar revealed structural weaknesses that could lead to a collapse similar to the Rana Plaza disaster.

UK retailers Tesco PLC and Primark sponsored the inspection and, when the safety issues were disclosed, joined with Carrefour SA and Debenhams PLC, which also produced goods at the factory, to take some action to resolve the problem.

The retailers sent a letter, signed also by trade unions, to the property owner demanding that the building be shut down until renovations are made and the structure is re-inspected and considered safe.

The letter also demanded that workers continue to be paid while the building repairs are made, but retailers also promised to fulfill previous orders when the factory resumes manufacturing under the improved safety conditions.

Competing retailers don’t normally cooperate, but because many of them use the same factories in Bangladesh they’re now working together to bring about the necessary changes in working conditions.

Under the government-retailer agreement, some 1,500 to 2,000 Bangladeshi factories will eventually be inspected.  Participants in the program have agreed to help finance the needed repairs in sub-standard factories.

Currently, another safety program has been launched by independent retailers including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Gap Inc., which jointly will finance a $50 million safety fund to pay for repairs and other safety enhancements.