Several of the biggest Western retailers embraced a plan that would require them to help pay for factory improvements in Bangladesh as the nearly three-week search for victims of the worst garment-industry disaster in history ended Monday with the death toll at a staggering 1,127.
Bangladesh's government also agreed to allow garment workers to form unions without permission from factory owners. That decision came a day after it announced a plan to raise the minimum wage in the industry.
The collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building in a Dhaka suburb April 24 focused worldwide attention on hazardous conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry, where workers sew low-cost clothing that ends up on store shelves around the globe, including the United States and Western Europe.
The tragedy followed a November fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers.
Swedish retailing giant H&M, the largest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh; British companies Primark and Tesco; C&A and Inditex, owner of the Zara chain, said they would sign a contract that requires them to conduct independent safety inspections, make reports on factory conditions public and cover the costs of repairs.
It also requires them to stop doing business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety improvements.
Among the big holdouts so far are Wal-Mart Stores, which is the second-largest producer of clothing in Bangladesh behind H&M, and the Gap.
Labor groups are setting Wednesday as the deadline for companies to commit to the plan.
H&M said the agreement is a "pragmatic step," and it urged more brands to take part. -- AP