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Western Retailers Battling over Clean Up of Bangladesh Garment Factories

Sept. 2, 2014
The decision to re-inspect factories has enraged Bangladesh's garment manufacturers, who have already shut down 21 factories that the groups have deemed unsafe, retrenching tens of thousands of workers.

DHAKA -- A row has erupted between two groups of leading Western retailers attempting to improve appalling safety conditions at Bangladesh's garment factories following deadly disasters, officials said Tuesday.

One of the umbrella groups, representing 150 European brands, has decided to inspect factories for safety flaws already checked by members of the second group.

Brad Loewen, chief safety inspector for the Accord group, which includes H&M and Tesco, said he would push ahead with the fresh inspections, saying he had some "concerns" with ones already undertaken.

"We just want to be sure," Loewen said.

The second group called Alliance, representing mostly U.S. retailers such as Walmart and Gap, branded the re-inspection move a "setback for garment factory safety efforts in Bangladesh."

Some 300 factories overlap both groups for inspection, because they supply clothes to both American and European retailers.

The groups were set up after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building that revealed woeful conditions for the sector's three million workers who stitch clothes for Western brands for poor pay. The garment factory complex collapsed last April killing more than 1,100 workers in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

Western retailers came under intense pressure to compensate the victims and clean up the $22 billion sector, the mainstay of impoverished Bangladesh's economy.

The decision to re-inspect has enraged Bangladesh's garment manufacturers, who have already shut down 21 factories that the groups have deemed unsafe, retrenching tens of thousands of workers.

"This is unexpected. The row between Accord and Alliance has hampered factory production and increased cost of safety upgrades," said Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association vice-president Shahidullah Azim.

"It also created confusion as to which inspection report a factory must follow."

Head of Alliance, Ellen Tauscher, defended its own inspections of 600 factories, saying its experts had used safety and fire standards agreed by both groups.

But Loewen said he had "concerns" about inspections carried out by individual retailers who are members of Alliance, without elaborating on what the concerns were.He said he did not have a problem with inspections conducted by experts on behalf of Alliance itself. "It's all part of moving forward. I don't understand how this inspection can be a setback for the safety of garment factories," he said.

Alliance has completed its inspections of all 600 factories that supply clothing to U.S. brands such as Gap. The Accord has so far reviewed around 1,075 plants.

In a statement last week, Alliance's Tauscher said its inspections had been rigorous."The Accord indicated that they have 'methodological concerns' with Alliance inspection reports, yet they have never raised these concerns with us, despite our interaction on the ground in Bangladesh," Tauscher said.

She added the group shared its inspection protocols with the Accord "without receiving the Accord's in return."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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