NEW YORK • Four of the world’s biggest retailers agreed to sign a pact to improve safety at garment factories in Bangladesh nearly three weeks after more than 1,100 workers died in a building collapse in the country.
H&M, C&A, Primark and Inditex, owner of the Zara chain, on Monday said they would sign a five-year contract that requires the companies to conduct safety inspections, make factory conditions public and cover the costs for repairs. It also calls for them to stop doing business with any factory that refuses to make safety upgrades.
The companies join two other retailers that signed the agreement last year: PVH, which makes clothes under the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod labels, and German retailer Tchibo. The agreement has since been expanded to five years from two.
Swedish retailer H&M said the agreement is a "pragmatic step," and urged more brands to reach a pact that covers the entire industry of 5,000 factories in Bangladesh.
"Our strong presence in Bangladesh gives us the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and contribute to the community’s development," H&M spokeswoman Helena Hermersson said in a statement. "We can slowly but surely contribute to lasting changes."
The agreement comes as retailers face increasing pressure to monitor factories that produce clothing in Bangladesh after two recent tragedies in the country’s garment industry. The building collapse on April 24 was the industry’s worst disaster in history. It came months after a fire in another garment factory in Bangladesh in November killed 112 workers.
"This agreement is exactly what is needed to finally bring an end to the epidemic of fire and building disasters that have taken so many lives in the garment industry in Bangladesh," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a worker rights group that had been one of the organizations pushing for the agreement.
Only a few companies, including Britain’s Primark, have acknowledged that suppliers were making clothes for them at the site of the April building collapse and promised to compensate workers and their families.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Monday, Primark said the agreement was the most likely way to "bring effective and sustainable change for the better to the Bangladeshi garment industry."
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