Leading global brands and retailers including H&M, Levi Strauss, Carrefour and Tesco have backed a three-year programme to clean up production in the Bangladeshi garment industry.

The scheme will help local garment washing, dyeing and finishing units adopt cleaner and safer production methods, including technologies to reduce water consumption and effluents, and is also designed to help the sector to enhance its long-term competitiveness and sustainability.

Backed by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Dutch government, and Dutch international development group Solidaridad, the initiative will also involve the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Export Oriented Garment Washing Industries Owners Association.

Also lending their support are AB Lindex, Cena, G-Star Raw, Esprit Europe Services, KappAhl, Mothercare, New Look, Lindex, Puls Trading, Primark Stores, and WE Europe - who will work with around 200 Bangladeshi factories.

Bangladesh is the world's largest clothing manufacturer after China, with more than 3.5m people - 85% of whom are women - employed by the sector.

But the IFC notes textile and garment manufacturing in Bangladesh "has a huge environmental footprint, annually discharging as much as 56m tons of waste water, 0.5m tons of sludge, and consumes tremendous amounts of energy."

This latest textile clean-up programme follows a similar initiative by the IFC over the last year, in which 12 factories were helped to install new cleaner and efficient production equipment.

It acted after a series of pollution incidents involving Bangladesh's textile sector - a serious problem for a country where 31m people lack clean water.

It claimed if the industry's 1,700 textile wet-processing units adopt cleaner production measures, they could save up to US$70m and 10.5bn litres of water annually.