Seventy top clothing retailers, mainly European brands, will open their factories in Bangladesh to safety inspections as part of an upgrade plan that was finalized and released on Monday, the Associated Press reports. Initial inspections will be completed within nine months, and if they reveal factories to be unsafe, the companies will underwrite the cost of repairs and renovations.
After a garment factory in the country collapsed in April and killed 1,127 workers, brands such as H&M;, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the owner of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod signed onto the union-backed safety plan.
The companies will submit details about their Bangladesh suppliers by July 15, which will then be publicly released for the first time. Between 1,500 and 2,000 of Bangladesh’s 5,000 factories could be covered by the pact. A team of inspectors will be put together, who will “identify grave hazards and the need for urgent repairs,” according to the plan.
It is not yet clear how much the companies are willing to spend on the repairs, and they have already approached the World Bank and other financial institutions about financial assistance. They must commit for two years to the upgrades and repairs that are flagged by the inspections.
Retailers have already been moving to conduct inspections ahead of the safety plan. The Wall Street Journal reports that many have hired specialists and conducted their own safety inspections, and some are sharing supplier lists with each other for the first time in the hopes of changing conditions by coordinating their efforts.
Meanwhile, many major American retailers, including Walmart and Gap, have refused to sign onto the larger safety plan, instead coming up with their own, which is not legally binding.
Inspecting and upgrading the country’s factories is a huge task. The AP reports that an engineering team at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology found that nine out of ten factories have risky structures and many were built without qualified engineers. Yet even with the engineering team, the development authority in the capitol city of Dhaka, and industry trade group Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association all working to examine buildings, it is clear that there is still a huge shortage of inspectors to cover all of the factories.
The factory collapse at Rana Plaza has officially been attributed to poor building materials and violations of regulations. The cost of upgrading all of the country’s factories has been estimated at $3 billion, yet it would cost consumers just 10 cents per garment if all of the costs were passed on.