H&M to sign Bangladesh worker safety agreement

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Swedish fashion giant H&M said on Monday that it had agreed to sign an agreement drafted by global unions to improve safety in the Bangladeshi textile factories it uses.

The world's largest fashion retailer by revenue has agreed to a five-year fire and building safety plan first launched in 2012 by global union federations Industrial and Uni-Global Union.

The agreement includes appointing an independent chief inspector who will "design and implement a fire safety inspection programme that is credible and effective." It also requires one or more qualified experts to "complete a full and rigorous review of current building standards and regulations" for garment manufacturers.

Activists had set May 15 as a deadline for signing on to the accord.

The full list of signatories has yet to be revealed, but US-based HPV, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and Germany's Tchibo, were among the first to sign, according to anti-sweatshop network The Clean Clothes Campaign.

The announcement came less than three weeks after a nine-storey garment factory complex in a suburb of Dhaka caved in and buried thousands of workers.

The death toll from the country's worst industrial disaster on Sunday climbed to 1,126.

There are around 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, churning out products for Western fashion labels which sell the clothing at many times the cost price.

The country is the world's second-largest apparel maker and the US$20 billion (S$24 billion) industry accounted for up to 80 per cent of annual exports last year.