North American retailers yesterday assured apparel makers in Bangladesh that they would give a reasonable amount of time to relocate the factories operating on shared buildings.
“We know transition needs time. Obviously, we will allow an appropriate amount of time to make the transition,” said Wesley Wilson, senior director for ethical sourcing at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is a member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a platform of 27 North American retailers and brands.
He was speaking at a meeting on building, fire and safety assessment, with garment makers and representatives of the Alliance at the office of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association yesterday.
“Our intention is not to punish garment factory owners in the country; rather, we want to extend support for their upgradation,” said Wilson.
The official, however, did not specify a timeframe for the relocation process.
The assurance comes in response to apparel makers' requests for sufficient time to improve workplace safety.
Around 40 percent of clothing factories in Bangladesh currently operate on shared or converted buildings, said Atiqul Islam, president of BGMEA.
Adequate time is needed as it takes two-three years to build a new factory, Islam said. As per the roadmap, the Alliance will inspect around 800 factories, while the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a forum of 150 retailers, mostly European, will inspect around 1,800 factories.
The Alliance has already hired seven local companies to inspect the factories that supply garments to North American retailers and brands, said Mesbah Rabin, managing director of the Alliance in Bangladesh.
The seven firms have already begun inspection; but they will not inspect the factories, which have already been inspected by international brands such as Wal-Mart, GAP and Target, Rabin said. Wilson said they are facing challenges in inspecting factories as most units do not have any structural drawings, soil test reports or electrical line outlines.
He urged the clothing makers in Bangladesh to invest in factory upgradation as it will enhance competitiveness in the global market. The BGMEA president said the finance minister had pledged to exempt imports of fire and building material from all sorts of duties in the next budget.
Bangladesh is now the second largest garment exporter after China. The country has around 4,000 active garment factories, employing nearly 3.6 million people directly, 80 percent of whom are women, according to BGMEA.
Garment exports accounted for 80 percent or $21.5 billion of the country's total overseas sales of $27 billion in fiscal 2012-13, according to the Export Promotion Bureau.