Over a year after the Rana Plaza tragedy, which killed over 1,000 garments factory works in Bangladesh, safety problems are still extremely widespread. A recent inspection of Bangladesh garment factories was conducted in connection with the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between international trade unions IndustriALL and UNI Global, Bangladesh trade unions, and international brands and retailers. The round of inspections took place at 1,106 factories used by 150 Western brands, and resulted in the identification of 80,000 safety-related problems. According to Brad Loewen, the Accord’s chief safety inspector, safety hazards were found in every factory inspected, with nearly 20 factories being labeled as bearing a heightened risk of collapse, and 110 other factories were deemed to have notable structural issues.
Loewen said in a statement that each factory that was subject to inspection was visited three times to check fire, electrical and structural safety. As a result of the 80,000+ safety issues that were identified, the Accord is seeking remedial action, while the country’s $22 billion garment industry grapples with slowing export growth as buyers turn to India, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia because of concerns over workshop safety, higher wages and political instability. The Accord team is reportedly working with factory owners, brands, and labour colleagues to ensure safety recommendations are implemented.
Amidst continued safety and health violations in fast fashion garment factories, the world’s two top fashion retailers Zara owner Inditex and Hennes & Mauritz reported strong sales growth early this year. In June, Inditex reported that its sales rose 11 percent in local currencies between Feb. 1 and June 8, accelerating from the 8 percent it recorded in the year to January 31. Sweden’s H&M said sales rose 19 percent in May, its fastest growth in six months and easily beating analyst forecasts. According to a Reuters report, “H&M and Inditex have outperformed the wider clothing market in recent years, helped by their focus on fast-changing fashions and low prices, with the Spanish firm having the edge thanks in part to its greater presence in developing economies.”