Blog: Leonie BarrieFabric mill fire fuels puts new spotlight on safety

Leonie Barrie | 14 October 2013

The safety of Bangladesh's textile and garment industry has been called into question again after at least seven people were killed last week in a fire at a fabric mill. More than 50 people were also injured in the blaze at Aswad Composite Mills Limited, part of the Palmal Group.

Retailers and brands including George at Asda, H&M, Next, Gap, Primark, Carrefour, Loblaw and Hudson's Bay Company have told just-style they are investigating - but are keen to make the distinction they had no direct contact with the facility even though its fabrics might have been used in their products.

The latest tragedy has led to renewed calls for efforts to ensure safe conditions in the country's garment sector - as well as questions on the extent to which audits need to be carried out further down the supply chain.

As a fabric supplier, Aswad Composite Mills was not listed in the nearly 1,600 factories used by signatories to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh - and as such would not be included in the current inspection plan.

Whether the on-going labour unrest, political turmoil and factory safety issues will weigh on Bangladesh's garment exports remains to be seen. While a new assessment expects a slowdown, the latest export figures tell a different story, showing a surge of 24% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

New forecasts for cotton prices this season have also been released, putting them on a par with last year and reflecting higher world stocks and lower consumption estimates.

While senior figures within the global cotton industry are considering promoting sales of their fibre proactively for the first time, as price shifts are allowing synthetics to seize more market share. 

In its quest to improve the sustainability of its business, the latest milestones achieved by Crystal Group's Yida jeans making facility highlight its progress in reducing the carbon footprint of each garment made.

And lacklustre back-to-school sales, warmer than average temperatures, waning consumer confidence, worries over a government shutdown, and stagnant wage growth all combined to give another mixed sales bag for US apparel retailers in September.

For Fifth & Pacific Companies change is also afoot after the apparel firm agreed to sell Juicy Couture to Authentic Brands Group for US$195m. The move enables it to focus on the popular Kate Spade line - and if the industry rumour mill has it right, could soon be a single brand company.

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