Blog: Leonie BarrieSafety focus shifts to Cambodia

Leonie Barrie | 29 May 2013

After more than a month in the spotlight for its failings on fire and building safety, the focus last week started to shift from Bangladesh to Cambodia after the collapse of structures in two factories killed and injured garment workers.

The first incident saw two workers die when a walkway collapsed at the Wing Star factory, which makes footwear for Japanese sporting goods firm Asics. And 23 people were injured when a shelter collapsed at Top World Garment - which was making clothes for Swedish fashion retailer H&M without its knowledge.

The incidents come as Cambodia's reputation as a standard-bearer for apparel workers' rights was already starting to wear thin - and yet the country is a rising star when it comes to attracting foreign investment and increasing exports.

The situation in Bangladesh also continues to evolve, with institutional investors and shareholders adding pressure to retailers sourcing clothing from the country to implement a number of reforms, including signing up to the new Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

More than 40 - predominantly European - retail brands have now signed the pact, introduced after a series of deadly accidents at Bangladeshi factories killed more than 1,500 workers.

But the chairman and CEO of US retail giant Gap Inc says he hasn't given up on the idea of a global accord to tackle fire and building safety in Bangladesh - and that the current agreement "didn't make sense for us."

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's main trade body for garment manufacturers has started preparations on creating a biometric database that will contain records of all workers in the country's clothing factories.

And value fashion retailer Primark is to provide all victims of the Rana Plaza factory building collapse with short-term financial assistance, including those who made apparel for its competitors. 

The challenges faced by Marks & Spencer's clothing business have already been well-documented, so it was no surprise that a fall in annual sales has weighed on the retailer's bottom line. The company reported a 6.5% drop in group profits, and said it is "working hard to get general merchandise performance back on track."


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