Desk Report: Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Debenhams, Next and Sainsbury’s are among a group of British retailers yet to join international rivals in renewing their commitment to a factory safety deal in Bangladesh.
The legally binding Bangladesh accord on fire and building safety was set up after the fatal collapse in a textile factory in 2013, which killed 1,135 people and is considered the world’s worst garment-industry accident.
Bringing together more than 200 international fashion brands, factory owners and unions, it has seen more than $55m invested in safety monitoring, training of health and safety committees, and site inspections by 200 trained engineers.
Its signatories have also contributed funds for safety measures including improving structural design and installing fire doors and sprinkler systems.
More than 1,600 factories are covered by the programme, which comes to an end in May, with just over 80% of the necessary safety work identified by initial inspections. About 60 major international brands using 1,200 Bangladeshi factories – including H&M, Zara’s owner Inditex and Primark – have signed up to a new version of the accord.
At least one major British company, Sainsbury’s, has decided not to sign up to the new deal. Several others are holding back amid concerns over costs and possible lack of support from factory owners and the Bangladeshi government.
Two industry sources said the tough retail environment in the UK meant retailers were looking to limit corporate social responsibility spending.
The original accord cost the largest brands $500,000 a year before further commitments to support any work needed in factories from which they source. The new deal will last for three years maximum with reviews every six months to assess whether the Bangladeshi government is ready to take over its work.
Sainsbury’s said while it would not be signing up, it remained supportive of progress in Bangladesh.
“We remain committed to this issue and will continue to support local manufacturers, helping them reach the highest standards in safety,” a spokesperson said.
M&S, John Lewis, Debenhams and Next said they were in discussions and still considering their options ahead of May.
Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary of the international union IndustriALL, said: “Brands need to stay with the accord otherwise all the hard work and money they have invested will quickly be undermined.” She said that those brands that did not contribute were letting other more responsible companies “carry the can” for continuing the safety work.
Holdcroft added that the deal was important as there was not yet a “credible regulatory system in place in Bangladesh that can take over the work of the accord and guarantee the safety of the factories”.