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Updated: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 18:35:56 GMT | By Anne D'Innocenzio, The Associated Press, thecanadianpress.com

Group: 1,500 Bangladesh factories to be inspected

NEW YORK, N.Y. - About 1,500 factories in Bangladesh are on track to be inspected by the end of August as part of a five-year safety pact signed by more than 150 clothing brands and 20 countries, according to organizers of the agreement.


Group: 1,500 Bangladesh factories to be inspected

Nazma Begum, the mother of Aakhi, a victim of the April 24 Rana Plaza building collapse, cries at her graveyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 7, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, A.M. Ahad

NEW YORK, N.Y. - About 1,500 factories in Bangladesh are on track to be inspected by the end of August as part of a five-year safety pact signed by more than 150 clothing brands and 20 countries, according to organizers of the agreement.

In a conference call Monday, organizers said inspections were performed on 10 factories last November and December, and by the end of March, 250 inspections will have been completed. About 250 inspections are expected to be conducted each month. The inspections have started with the high-risk buildings that have more than five floors.

Reports from the first 30 inspections of 10 factories will be available online Tuesday. The reports identify problem areas such as lack of automatic sprinkler systems, locked fire escapes and electrical issues and identify steps to fix the problems. A media briefing will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that day.

The country has about 5,000 garment factories.

"It's an aggressive plan," said Brad Loewen, chief safety inspector of the Bangladesh Accord Foundation, which is overseeing the pact. Thirty-eight teams of international fire, electrical, and structural engineers are working with Bangladeshi engineers and technicians on the inspections.

The legally binding agreement, signed last May, was created in response to a building collapse on April 24, 2013, that killed more than 1,100 garment workers and was the deadliest disaster to hit Bangladesh's garment industry. It exposed harsh and unsafe conditions for many of the 4 million workers working in the world's second-largest clothing producer after China.

The collapse took place five months after a fire killed 112 people in another garment factory.

Loewen told the media that the factories will be given two weeks' notice before the inspection. After the inspection, the owner will discuss remediation with representatives. A report will be published six weeks after the inspection. He said there will be follow-up visits to verify that problems were fixed.

When asked why the group was giving the factory owners heads up on the inspections, Loewen said that the group needed to work with the industry. "We're not trying to catch people," he added.

Two of the 10 factories whose reports will be available Tuesday had to close part of their operations because serious structural issues were detected.

The global agreement, known as the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, has been signed by mostly European brands and only a handful of U.S. brands, including Abercrombie & Fitch and PVH Inc., the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. The deal requires companies to pay up to $500,000 per year to administer the program. On top of that, they're also responsible for ensuring that enough money is available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements.

According to the pact, worker representatives have the power to initiate enforcement proceedings against companies that fail to comply with their obligations.

The pact is being backed by labour groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign and Workers' Rights Consortium. The International Labour Organization acts as the independent chair.

Separately, more than two dozen North American retailers including Gap Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., VF Corp. and Target Corp. signed a five-year agreement that aims to improve safety conditions but seeks to spread accountability across a wide spectrum, from the local government to the factory owners.

The initial pact, signed last July, requires that all the factories they do business will be inspected within a year. Inspection results will be made public.

The North American alliance said that it has inspected 365 factories out of a total of 830 currently being used in Bangladesh by its members. The remaining inspections will be completed by July 10. VF noted Monday that it uses a total of 91 factories in Bangladesh, and it has inspected 79 per cent of that total. The remainder will be completed by May, the clothing maker said.

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