Wal-Mart is set to donate US$1.6m to set up a training academy to help improve fire safety in Bangladesh.

The world's largest retailer will donate the money to US-based NGO the Institute of Sustainable Communities (ISC), which will establish the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Academy in Bangladesh. Sida, the Swedish International Development Agency, is also a partner in providing support for the new academy. 

The moves follow a fire that killed more than 110 people at the Tazreen garment factory last year, which was producing garments for Wal-Mart as an unauthorised subcontractor.

Wal-Mart said that through the EHS Academy, apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh will have access to high quality, affordable and comprehensive training on fire safety and environment, health and workplace safety.

In addition to funding, Walmart will also provide technical support and advice to ISC. The goal of the partnership is to provide a local, long-term platform for addressing challenges in the supply chain related to fire safety through technical training and engagement, Wal-Mart said.

The initial focus of EHS Academy in Bangladesh will be the ready-made garment sector, and there will be a strong emphasis on fire safety, water management, enhancing gender equity in the workplace and creating professional opportunities for Bangladeshi women. 

"We urgently need to create long-term change in Bangladesh," said ISC president, George Hamilton.

"Today, the immediate need may be fire safety - but we can't tackle these challenges one at a time. From fire safety, to toxic chemicals, to greenhouse gas emissions- we need to stress comprehensive, systemic change in how factories understand and address interrelated environment, health and safety issues over the long term."

The academy aims to train 2,000 Bangladeshi factory managers annually in the skills to help drive better safety and sustainability.

Wal-Mart is also set to conduct electrical, building and fire safety assessments of factories in Bangladesh to help prevent fires in the ready made garment industry.

It is also working with the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BMEA) and the government of Bangladesh to reinforce the critical need for improved fire safety in Bangladesh and the to highlight effective steps that can be taken to meet current fire safety challenges.

In the wake of the fire, Wal-Mart beefed up its supplier guidelines, including zero tolerance for unauthorised subcontracting, and higher standards for factories.