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More major retailers join Bangladesh safety pact

Benetton tops big names beating deadline set by worker rights groups

By Anne D’Innocenzio
Associated Press

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  • North Carolina clothing companies with ties to Bangladeshi suppliers

    • Charlotte-based Cato Corp., which has more than 1,300 stores, imported clothing made by New Wave Bottoms, a factory at the Rana Plaza building that collapsed. Cato said it did not have any items in production at the factory when it collapsed. The company said Tuesday it uses an independent company to monitor its factories and is “currently working to identify additional measures we can take to ensure that all of our vendors are providing a safe work environment.”

    • Matthews-based Family Dollar said Tuesday the company imports “a small percentage” of its apparel from Bangladesh, but none from the factory that collapsed. Spokeswoman Bryn Winburn said the company audits all of its factories to make sure they are meeting Family Dollar’s safety standards.

    • Winston-Salem-based Hanesbrands imports clothing from Bangladesh for sale in Canada, but doesn’t sell any Bangladeshi items in the U.S., a spokesman said.

    • Greensboro-based VF Corp. didn’t respond to questions about its supply chain. But in 2010, a fire killed 29 workers at the Bangladeshi clothing factory of one of VF’s contractors. The company said it increased its safety requirements after the fire. Ely Portillo



NEW YORK Italian fashion brand Benetton, Spanish retailer Mango and British retailer Marks & Spencer have become the latest global retailers to agree to sign a one-of-a-kind pact to improve safety at Bangladesh factories after a building collapsed and killed more than 1,100 workers in the country last month.

The move, announced by the three companies Tuesday, comes after H&M, a trendy Swedish fashion chain that is the largest clothing buyer in Bangladesh, said Monday that it would sign the same five-year legally binding factory safety contract.

Within hours, C&A of the Netherlands, British retailers Tesco and Primark, and Spain’s Inditex, owner of Zara, followed.

The announcements come ahead of a Wednesday deadline imposed by worker rights groups that said they would increase pressure on brands that did not sign the agreement.

“We decided to support this agreement so that our group can be at the forefront of contributing to a significant and lasting improvement in working conditions and safety in Bangladesh,” Biaglo Chiarolanza, CEO of Benetton Group SpA, said in a statement.

The agreement requires that the companies conduct independent safety inspections, make their reports on factory conditions public and cover the costs for needed repairs. It also calls for them to pay up to $500,000 annually in the administrative costs of the program. It also requires them to stop doing business with any factory that refuses to make safety upgrades and to allow workers and their unions to have a voice in factory safety.

The eight companies that agreed to the pact join two others that signed the contract last year: PVH, which makes clothes under the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod labels, and German retailer Tchibo. The agreement has since been expanded to five years from two.

Not in the safety pact: Wal-Mart, Gap

Among the holdouts, Wal-Mart, the second-largest clothing buyer in Bangladesh, said through spokesman Kevin Gardner on Monday that it had nothing to announce. And Gap, which had been close to signing the agreement last year, said late Monday that the pact is “within reach,” but the company is concerned about the possible legal liability involved.

Labor groups applauded the retailers that agreed to the pact. They say the agreement goes a long way toward improving working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, which long has been known to be dangerous.

The agreement comes as the working conditions of Bangladesh’s garment industry have come under increased scrutiny. Since 2005, at least 1,800 workers have been killed in the Bangladeshi garment industry in factory fires and building collapses, according to research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.

Most retailers won’t pull out of Bangladesh

Following the latest tragedy, Walt Disney Co. announced that it is stopping production of its branded goods in Bangladesh. But most retailers have vowed to stay and promised to work for change. H&M and Wal-Mart both have said they have no plans to leave. Other big chains such as The Children’s Place, Mango, J.C. Penney, Gap, Benetton and Sears have said the same.

Only a few companies, including Primark and Canada’s Loblaw Inc., which owns the Joe Fresh clothing line, have acknowledged that suppliers were making clothes for them at the Rana Plaza site and have promised to compensate workers and their families. Loblaw’s CEO said suppliers were making clothes for as many as 30 brands and retailers at the site.

Benetton labels were found at the site, and the Italian fashion brand acknowledged that one of its suppliers had used one of the factories. The company said that before the collapse, the factory had been removed from its list of approved factories.

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