Blog: Leonie BarrieFire safety remains at the fore

Leonie Barrie | 10 December 2012

The fallout from the devastating fire at Bangladeshi garment maker Tazreen Fashion, where at least 111 people lost their lives at the end of last month, continued to dominate the headlines last week.

Discussion centred on whether sourcing garments from the country is worth the risk for brands and retailers. In his monthly Rant, Mike Flanagan notes that US buyers were baling out of Bangladesh before the fire began, and will now be especially wary after the criticism aimed at Walmart for sourcing there.

And the US Ambassador to Bangladesh warned apparel buyers and manufacturers that a return to "business as usual" after the factory fire "could seriously jeopardise the future of Bangladesh's ready-made garment industry." Unless lessons are learned - including changes to workplace conditions and labour rights - the 'Made in Bangladesh' label will be seriously tainted, he said.

But in an ironic twist, a Chinese delegation is also visiting the country to explore new sourcing opportunities. Efforts to encourage Chinese investment in Bangladesh's textile and clothing sector, as well as boost bilateral trade between the two countries, took a step forward with an agreement signed between the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) and two of Bangladesh's key apparel bodies.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace is also maintaining pressure on international clothing brands by exposing what it describes as a "smokescreen" for pollution in China. The group's latest report describes how facilities are "exploiting" complex wastewater systems to conceal scrutiny of their manufacturing processes.

Meanwhile, US retailers and importers have welcomed the end to a strike that shut down most of the terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. But attention has shifted to the East and Gulf Coast ports, where federal mediators have been locked in prolonged discussions with labour and management for the past two months.

Sir Philip Green has sold a 25% stake in his Topshop and Topman brands to private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners, a co-owner of US retailer J Crew. The deal values the brands at GBP2bn, pays off the company's debt, and paves the way for new international expansion.

And department store operator Debenhams plans to increase its use of British manufacturers in a move it claims will bolster domestic production and help revitalise the UK clothing industry. The retailer says the move is being driven by the need for speed to market.


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