Wal-Mart Pledges to Improve Safety for Bangladesh Suppliers

Wal-Mart has pledged to carry out rigorous safety inspections at the 279 factories in Bangladesh from which it sources goods.

However, the world’s largest retailer declined to sign on to the broad safety plan launched earlier this week by more than a dozen European companies with operations in Bangladesh. The accord follows the death of more than 1,100 people when the nine-storey Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed on 24 April.

Wal-Mart also said that it had terminated its contract with Canada-based blue jeans supplier Fame Jeans after documents indicated that the company had ordered supplies from a factory inside the building, where garments were produced in poor working conditions.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said that the company is addressing the issue of unsafe conditions in Bangladesh, where Wal-Mart produces more than US$1bn of clothing and goods each year. The company also praised the Bangladeshi government for closing 18 factories that had safety violations.

Wal-Mart said that based on its information none of those factories were making authorized apparel for the company, although three of those factories were owned by the Nassa Group, which claims Wal-Mart and Sears as customers and is Bangladesh’s largest exporter.

Wal-Mart was also absent from the safety accord announced by other multinational retail groups on 14 May. French group Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer, Benetton, Marks & Spencer and El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store chain, joined major retailers like H&M and Spain’s Inditex, the parent of fashion chains such as Zara, in signing the safety agreement. The plan requires companies to have rigorous independent inspections and to contribute to fire safety upgrades such as the addition of fire escapes, which many Bangladeshi factories still lack.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) welcomed the new accord. In a statement, it said that it “stands ready to provide appropriate support to this initiative in response to the requests of the signatory parties, to help ensure effective implementation and coordination with national organizations”, adding that there was “a critical need to reform the country’s labour law to bring it in line with international norms”.

Bangladesh’s minimum wage for garment workers, which currently stands at US$38 (£25) a month, is the lowest in the world.

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