June 1, 2018 / 4:33 PM / 18 days ago

Major brands fail to join Bangladesh factory safety accord

NEW DELHI, June 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Swedish furniture giant IKEA and American music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’ clothing were among companies sourcing from Bangladesh that had failed to sign a new accord for the safety of millions of factory workers as it took effect on Friday.

The new pact is a three-year extension of the Bangladesh Accord, a legally-binding agreement between global brands and trade unions drawn up after the Rana Plaza collapse, one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

It established a fire and safety programme for the country’s $28 billion a year textile industry, which employs about 4 million people.

So far 175 of the 220 companies in the original accord have signed, but high-profile brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Combs’ Sean John apparel and Britain’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill have not, the Clean Clothes Campaign said.

“(They) are doing themselves and their customers a disservice and are knowingly putting the lives of the workers producing for them at risk,” said Christie Miedema of the Campaign, which lobbies to improve workers’ conditions.

More than 1,100 people were killed when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in 2013, sparking outrage over poor working conditions in the garment sector.

Since then Western brands that manufacture in Bangladesh have been under pressure to do more to ensure worker safety.

Sean John did not respond to requests for comment and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill was not reachable.

Abercrombie said it was reviewing the 2018 accord, while IKEA said it had chosen to focus on its own safety audit programme IWAY rather than signing up.

Unlike the original accord, which expired on Thursday, the new one is open to non-garment companies like IKEA that produce home fabrics and textiles.

Campaigners have urged them to sign up, arguing that other schemes such as IWAY lack transparency because they do not make inspection findings and reports public.

“We operate on a highly competitive market, and for competitive reasons we don’t hand out a list of our suppliers in Bangladesh or any other country,” IKEA told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an emailed statement.

Bangladesh, which ranks behind only China as a supplier of clothes to Western countries, relies on the garment industry for more than 80 percent of its exports.

Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories

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