Two groups representing retailers in North America and Europe have agreed with the Bangladesh government on a scheme to improve worker safety standards at factories that make their clothing.
In the wake of factory fires that killed dozens of people and the Rana Plaza collapse, which killed more than 1,100, the groups have reached an agreement with the Bangladesh government for on fire and safety inspection standards and inspector qualifications and monitoring.
- Retailers split over how to protect Bangladesh garment workers
- Rana Plaza compensation would cost retailers little
The Swiss-based International Labour Organization was consulted on safety standards, along with the Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, which has a mandate to carry out inspections.
But the two groups are taking different approaches to paying for upgrades at the factories.
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which represents stores such as Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, Target and the Gap, has agreed to $100 million in loans to factory owners who need to upgrade.
"It's up to the factory owner to decide if they want to remediate. We can't force them to make these changes," said Jeffrey Krilla, president of the American-led alliance,
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which includes retailers such as Joe Fresh and H&M, has agreed to finance fire and safety reforms for buildings that do not meet requirements.
Individual retailers can voluntarily pull out of factories that do not meet safety requirements.
On Wednesday, Wal-Mart said about 10 of the more than 75 Bangladesh garment factories it has inspected have failed safety checks. The retailer hired Bureau Veritas to check its Bangladesh factories and 75 out of a total of 200 have been audited so far.
Workers welcomed independent audits, saying the local inspection system is rife with corruption.
"The reason garment factories continue to be unsafe is not for a lack of common standards. It is because the monitoring visits carried out by brands were not conducted by competent engineers, not done in manner that is transparent, and did not include any commitment by brands and retailer to finance repairs," said Theresa Haas, a spokeswoman for the Worker Rights Consortium, a labour rights group that is a member of the European accord.
International retailers have been under pressure to improve working conditions in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza collapse, involving a structurally unsound building that housed dozens of factories.
The garment industry brings $20 billion into Bangladesh, but workers make wages higher only than Myanmar within Asia.
Last week, the government approved measures to increase the monthly salary to 5,300 taka (about $68 Cdn). But that led to a series of protests in the industrial zones of Gazipur and Ashulia among workers who want to raise their wages to the equivalent of $100 a month.
Work resumed this week at most of the factories that had been hit by labour unrest and workers are waiting to see when the new increased wage will kick in.