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WASHINGTON — The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, signed by more than 90 retailers and brands, two global labor federations and several Bangladeshi unions, released comprehensive data on Thursday on 1,566 apparel factories covered by the binding agreement.
The accord’s announcement was followed by the release of a new report by a separate labor rights group accusing an alleged Gap Inc. contractor in Bangladesh of pervasive worker’s right abuses.
The factory data includes names and addresses, the number of stories of each structure where a factory operates, the number of workers at each factory, descriptions of business in the building where the factory operates and the number of accord signatories using each factory.
“This is not merely a list of factory names; it includes crucial information on the physical structure of factories,” said Sean Ansett, the accord’s interim executive director. “These data points provide an unprecedented map of the Bangladesh apparel industry covered by the accord and are playing a key role in prioritizing factories for safety inspections.”
The five-year binding accord, which counts among its signatories H&M, Carrefour, Mango and Inditex, was launched in the aftermath of two tragic factory disasters that have claimed the lives of more than 1,200 workers. It currently covers more than 2 million Bangladeshi garment workers.
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The accord executives also said they plan to launch a Web site with the data on Monday at bangladeshaccord.org. It will also soon announce a new chief safety inspector, who will oversee factory inspections and renovations.
“It gives the public a better understanding of what the industry looks like in Bangladesh,” said Scott Nova, executive director at the Worker Rights Consortium, one of the nongovernmental organization witnesses to the accord. “This disclosure will be even more meaningful when it is coupled with public reports of the actual safety inspections of all of the factories. This is the first step in a broader process of transparency and public disclosure.”
Nova said he expects the number of factories covered by the accord to soon climb to 1,750, once new signatories fully disclose the number of factories they use.
There are different estimates on the total number of garment factories operating in Bangladesh.
Nova said the accord’s best estimate is approximately 3,500 factories, which would leave some 1,750 factories outside of its coverage.
“The accord can only take action on factories where the accord brands have leverage,” Nova said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge there are huge safety issues in other factories. There are, which is why we want to see more bands and retailers sign the accord.”
A separate North American group of retailers and brands, led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc. — named the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety — launched its own building and fire safety plan in July, noting its plan will cover some 500 garment factories.
Also on Thursday, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights released a 65-page report, alleging that Next Collections Ltd., a factory owned by Ha-Meem Group in Bangladesh, forced workers to toil 14 to 17 hours a day, seven days a week, stitching clothes for Gap and Old Navy, and failed to fully pay them for the work.
“We can…inform Gap and Old Navy that the 3,750 workers at the Next Collections Ltd. factory in Ashulia are routinely forced to work over 100 hours a week, while being shortchanged of their legal wages, which are already well below subsistence levels,” said Charles Kernaghan, director of the institute in the preface to the report. “Gap is in violation of its own code of conduct and these abuses have been going on for more than two-and-a-half years.”
Among other abuses alleged in the report were: a management-controlled scam of handing out phony pay slips to prove compliance with legal hours and wages, physical punishment and illegal firings, termination of pregnant women and denial of maternity leave.
Kernaghan said Ha-Meem Group, which operates 26 garment factories in Bangladesh, “routinely cheated” workers of about 15 percent of their legal overtime wages, adding the report provides documentation to back up those claims.
The report alleges that 70 percent of what Next Collections produces is for Gap and Old Navy.
According to Ha-Meem’s Web site, the company said it operates 250 production lines, produces five million pieces of woven garments a month and has sales of about $400 million.
Kernaghan also accused Ha-Meem of preventing workers in Bangladesh to organize a union and called on Gap and Old Navy to allow workers to exercise those rights.
A Gap Inc. spokesman said, “We want people working in our supply chain treated with fairness, dignity and respect. This has been a cornerstone of our company for the past 44 years, and we have put in place some of the most stringent standards in the industry. We received this report earlier today and are carefully reviewing it. If true, these allegations are in direct violation of Gap’s contract with this vendor.
“Gap Inc. regularly audits our factories, including unannounced visits, and our team in Bangladesh includes local experts. Gap Inc. reports regularly on both our progress and challenges in Bangladesh. We remain committed to helping the garment industry rectify some of these challenges and will continue to work toward a safer labor environment.”