The head of a group working on factory safety in Bangladesh for fashion retailers including Inditex and H&M expects many brands to actually increase sourcing from the country despite attacks claimed by Islamist militants. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety was set up by more than 200 mostly European brands, retailers and importers in 2013 to improve safety in Bangladeshi factories after the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in which more than 1,100 people died.
Accord executive director Rob Wayss said much progress had been made since then, with 65 percent of the safety issues identified at around 1,600 factories already resolved.
"There is no other country where the work that the Accord is doing is taking place and where buyers can have the assurances on safety compliance issues that they can have here," he told Reuters in an interview over Skype from Dhaka. "For many of the brands, Bangladesh is a very important and good supplier base and ... it is still their plan to increase the amount and types of production that they have here."
Bangladesh relies on garments for more than 80 percent of its exports and roughly 4 million jobs. It ranks behind only China as a clothing supplier to developed markets in Europe and the United States. Some people working in the garment industry say they fear for the future of the $28 billion sector after a group of radicalised young Bangladeshis killed about 20 people, including 18 foreigners, in an attack on an upscale Dhaka restaurant.
Wayss said some brands had put a temporary halt to foreign staff travelling to Bangladesh, but he expected visits would resume again soon as buyers take up an offer from the government to provide extra security and escorts for foreigners. He said it is likely that the work of the Accord will be extended beyond 2018, when it is currently due to wrap up its work, noting that it still has to introduce safety committees at the majority of factories that supply its brands.
A separate group of mostly North American brands and retailers including Gap and Wal-Mart said last week it is also still committed to Bangladesh.