Global clothes firms say Bangladesh must ensure fire safety

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 01, 2012 5:02 AM

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) - International garment firms have demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile workers, a week after a plant fire killed more than 100 people, a senior industry official in the country said on Saturday.

Mohammad Shafiul Islam, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said a 19-member buyers' forum was blunt in suggesting it would "lose confidence" in the country's industry unless change came fast.

Rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up for a fire safety program.

Islam quoted company officials at the meeting on Friday as saying that while some factories in Bangladesh observed safety regulations, "many of them do not comply with these".

"Now we want to see proper action towards implementation of compliance issues, instead of commitments," he quoted Roger Hubert, Vice-President of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Ltd, as telling the meeting.

Hubert, he said, pledged financial support for the families of those who died in the fire. Representatives of Li & Fung and other companies present were unavailable for comment.

Last week's fire at Tazreen Fashions, Bangladesh's worst-ever industrial blaze, was blamed by authorities on saboteurs. Police say narrow exits trapped workers inside the nine-storey building, killing 111 people and injuring more than 150.

Three employees have been arrested and police say they are being investigated for suspected negligence.

Several hundred workers demonstrated outside the gutted plant on Saturday demanding what they said was three months in wage arrears. Protesters briefly blocked a highway and other plants in the area stopped work, fearing vandalism.

A senior official from the BGMEA said the association had agreed to pay one month in back wages on behalf of the plant and was trying to settle all outstanding issues.

The fire has drawn attention to global retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh where wages are low - as little as the equivalent of $37 for some workers.

The meeting was attended by representatives of major clothing companies, including H&M, TSS, SEARS, TCHIBO, Global Merchants, GAP Inc, Nike Inc, LEVIS, Kappahl, Carrefour and Primark. No representative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was present.

Islam said he told the companies his association would form a task force next week to uphold safety regulations at individual plants.

"We have described the post-fire situation as a crisis in the industry and requested all stakeholders to come forward with a collaborative approach to address the crisis," Islam said.

The association, he said, had been trying to communicate with Walmart. The U.S. retail giant this week said one of its suppliers subcontracted work to the factory without authorization and would no longer be used.

Other retailers, like Gap and Nike, denied any relationship with the workshop.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)