Seventy top European retailers have pledged to open up their buildings to inspectors, and to foot the bill for repairs and reconstruction should they fall below standard, it was confirmed yesterday. As part of the Bangladesh Fire And Safety Agreement, big name brands with a significant presence in the clothing industry there like Primark and Tesco have until July 15th to submit details of their factory suppliers.
Then the major work starts. A survey by a Dhaka-based engineering university has found that nine out of 10 Bangladeshi garment plants are risky structures, and many were built without the supervision of qualified engineers. It's estimated that the cost of refitting these structures could be as much as $3billion.
Of course, it's not all good news. Gap and Walmart have refused to sign the accord, opting instead for self-regulation. It's heartening to note, though, that fears of this stance torpedoing the agreement seem to have been premature, and the plan includes safeguards and binding two-year commitments to getting the factories up to code.
There's still a long way to go, and no-one thinks that the plan is perfect. There's plenty of local complaint that government and factory owners should have been more involved from the start. Nevertheless, it's a major step forward for an industry that's the lifeblood of Bangladesh. It's just a shame that it took one of the biggest industrial accidents ever seen to kick fashion retail into action.