Blog: Leonie BarrieBrands push forward on Bangladesh safety agreements

Leonie Barrie | 21 October 2013

There were major developments last week from the two groups of brands and retailers working to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh's garment factories.

The first saw the North American Alliance publicly release details of more than 620 factories used to supply its clothes. The move comes two weeks after the largely-European Accord published a list of nearly 1,600 Bangladesh factories used by its members.

The Accord has also filled a number of key roles in its leadership team, including its chief safety inspector, and heads of international and Bangladesh operations.

The progress come as latest figures show Bangladesh's ready-made garment exports are continuing to soar, rising by more than 24% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year despite on-going labour unrest, political turmoil and factory safety issues.

Whether improved transparency in clothing supply chains will be enough to guarantee a sustainable future for outsourcers in South Asia remains to be seen, but a conference in Sri Lanka heard plenty of calls for improved openness.

A parallel event staged as part of the annual Sri Lanka Design Festival was also told that the growing retail market in the Asia-Pacific region may enable emerging economies such as Sri Lanka realise ambitious dreams to become regional production hubs.

But the much publicised talks to strike a free trade agreement between China and Sri Lanka are sparking intense debate about its potential impact.

In Cambodia, an on-going dispute at SL Garment Processing has now been running for more than two months. Around 500 workers are still on strike, and the Singapore-owned company has attempted to clarify the situation to customers by outlining its version of events.

Garment factories in Haiti supplying top brands and retailers have been accused of minimum wage violations that routinely deprive workers of nearly one-third of their pay. Research carried out by a US-based labour rights group claims that workers in Port-au-Prince are paid an average of 32% less than they should be under the country's minimum wage and overtime laws.

Meanwhile in Nicaragua, manufacturing giant Grupo Karim's has acquired the former Cone Denim Mills plant in a $35m deal. The move will add woven fabric and garments to the company's already-strong vertical knit operations.

But basic apparel manufacturer Hanesbrands is to lay off nearly half of Maidenform Brands' 1,330 staff worldwide as part of its US$583m merger with the rival intimate apparel maker.

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