70 companies vow to fix Bangladesh factories

A sewing machine lies on the debris of

A sewing machine lies on the debris of a collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh. (May 10, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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A group of primarily European retailers and clothing makers said Monday it plans to inspect clothing factories in Bangladesh that make garments for the companies within the next nine months and will concentrate renovations on those that pose the biggest safety threat.

The group of 70 companies includes Swedish retailer H&M, Italian clothing maker Benetton and French retailer Carrefour. Under the companies' agreement, they are required to pay administrative costs for the inspections, training and other programs. And they're also responsible for ensuring that "sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements."

The details of the legally binding five-year pact come after negotiating with worker rights' groups and other organizations on how the plan should be carried out. The plan, announced in mid-May, initially had about 30 companies signing on. The plan covers anywhere from 800 to about 1,000 of the 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh.

"Our mission is clear: to ensure the safety of all workers in the Bangladesh garment industry," said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, a Geneva-based labor union involved in the negotiations.

Stores and clothing makers face increasing pressure to step up oversight of Bangladeshi factories following a building collapse in April that killed 1,129 workers there. The deadliest incident in the history of the garment industry came after a fire in another garment factory in Bangladesh in November killed 112 workers.

Only a handful of U.S. companies have committed to the global pact, and they include PVH Corp., the Manhattan-based parent company of Tommy Hilfiger; and Abercrombie & Fitch of New Albany, Ohio.

Many U.S. merchants say they were averse to signing on to the global pact because they believe it exposed them to unlimited liability. Instead, Wal-Mart, Gap and others are part of a coalition of U.S. merchants and garment makers developing an alternative plan. They're closely working with former U.S. Sens. George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe. The details are expected to be announced Wednesday.

All 70 companies in the global pact have been asked to send in data about factories they use by Monday.

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