The group of 70 retailers and brands that have signed up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh have agreed to inspect all of their supplier factories in the country within the next nine months.

The commitment, which was revealed today (8 July), will see signatories initially focus inspections and repairs on "issues that pose grave and immediate risks to workers".

These include emergency infrastructure and procedures such as fire exits, fire training and evacuation, as well as fundamental flaws that could lead to a structural failure of the building.

In the interim period while details are being finalised, an emergency protocol will be put into place to ensure swift action to protect workers at any factory where existing inspection programmes or worker reports identify an immediate threat.

For example, where issues are found, signatory companies will be notified immediately and the factory owner will be told to cease operations pending further investigation and repairs. With the involvement of the local unions, factory workers will be informed of the potential danger and their right to refuse to enter a potentially unsafe building.

A plan will then be created to address the hazards, and workers will be paid while the factory remains closed.

Retailers began signing up to the legally-binding Fire and Safety Accord three weeks after more than 1,100 workers died when the Rana Plaza garment factory building collapsed at the end of April.

Most of the signatories are based in Europe. A number of US retailers and brands are working on a different plan, called the Safer Factories Initiative, which is set to unveiled later this month. Their initiative is unlikely to be legally-binding, amid concerns the Fire and Safety Accord might open them up to lawsuits in the US if anything goes wrong.

Signatories to the Fire and Safety Accord "agree that this joint effort is a credible and effective programme with a genuine commitment from all parties to work together," said Andy York, ethical trading manager at retailer N Brown Group.

"This is the only way to bring about long-term, sustainable change to the garment industry in Bangladesh." 

Factory data from all signatories will be collected by 15 July, along with details about each factory building. An aggregated list of all covered factories under the Accord will be publicly disclosed.

The legal structure to administer the Accord will be a foundation established in the Netherlands with an office in Bangladesh.

Signatories have elected the six executive members of the steering committee, with members including officials from the IndustriAll union, UNI Global Union and the Bangladesh Council of Council of Trade Unions, as well as representatives from Inditex, N Brown Group and PVH Group. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has designated a senior representative to serve as a chair person.

An advisory board, which includes representatives of the Bangladesh government, as well as suppliers, brands, local trade unions and NGOs, will be established. The board, which will be chaired by an ILO representative, will ensure a strong link to local stakeholders and the National Action Plan.

Efforts have also begun to recruit the chief safety inspector and executive director.