NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Bangladesh has far more factories engaged in the global garment business than stated by its industry and millions of people working in them are exposed to unsafe conditions, a U.S.-based study said on Thursday.
Bangladesh's $25 billion garment industry has been in the throes of a safety overhaul since the 2013 collapse of a complex, the Rana Plaza, in which more than 1,100 people were killed.
Thousands of factories have been undergoing inspections and dozens shuttered over safety concerns.
But at many functioning factories, employees fall outside the purview of those improvements, New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights said in a study.
The authors determined more than 7,000 factories in Bangladesh are producing goods for the global fashion business, nearly double the 3,600 exporting factories that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association says operates.
Many of those are small- and medium-sized factories whose workers indirectly produce goods for foreign brands through larger factories, they found.
"Though global brands assert they have strict policies against subcontracting, in reality, millions of workers and thousands of smaller factories are producing their goods," said Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, in a statement.
"Working in these factories is often highly risky," she said.
The president of the Bangladesh industry association, Siddiqur Rahman, told Reuters he did not agree with the finding that there were 7,000 factories in Bangladesh producing for the global market.
"Buyers don't place orders in non-compliant factories," he said, referring to factories that do not follow industry safety requirements.
"Subcontracting factories don't exist," Rahman said.
Among the global brands that source from the country are H&M, Gap Inc (GPS.N), Levi Strauss & Co and Marks & Spencer.
Reporting by Krista Mahr in New Delhi and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Krista Mahr; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel