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River Island and Matalan vow to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh

26th September 2013

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Clothing retailers River Island and Matalan have signed up to Trades Union Congress's (TUC) Accord on Fire and Building Safety - designed to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh following the Rana Plaza collapse, which killed over 1,000 workers.

They have joined over 80 brands worldwide, including H+M, Zara, Next, Primark, New Look and Debenhams, which signed up to the legally binding building safety agreement, pledging to contribute up to $500,000 (£325,000) a year towards independent factory inspections and fire safety measures.

Bangladeshi workers will have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions and be entitled to full lay-off pay whilst any repairs recommended as a result of safety inspections are completed.

Matalan and River Island faced extensive pressure this month to change their position, with over 5,000 members of the TUC's Going to Work network sending emails of protest to River Island, while the Global Poverty Project - an international education and advocacy organisation - called on its 30,000 members to contact the group.

River Island said: "Our objective throughout has been to establish a long-term framework for improving working conditions in the countries that we produce in. We feel the accord is the best vehicle to bring about significant changes to the region."

Matalan said that it was committed to achieving the goals of the accord.

Other UK based brands now face pressure to sign up, including Peacocks, Jane Norman and Bench.

This represents a major step forward for employees in the country's troubled garment industry, which has seen regular workplace fires and accidents claim many hundreds of lives in recent years, says the TUC.

Richard Collins, the Global Director for Achilles supply chain management company said:"It’s great news that Matalan and River Island have joined 80 other retailers in signing a pact to protect workers in Bangladesh.

"But retail is a truly globalised industry and organisations should be looking to address risks in all countries where clothes are made – not just those that hit the headlines."

He believes that after the Rana Plaza disaster, the public put pressure on retailers to protect clothing workers and create a more ethical supply chain, a pressure that will intensify if a similar incident occurs again.

Nicola Guiggioli, CEO of brand consultancy Eco-Age, said that fashion is often seen as having a supply chain that is too long to be analysed correctly with governments and companies doing too little to increase transparency and accountability.

He believes these deals like the accord are a very important first step and brands have started playing their part in this needed change. He suggests that we need a more engaged role from the governments – possibly bi-lateral Country agreements - who can guarantee these changes are implemented effectively.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: “We're pleased River Island has stepped up to its responsibilities for its workers' safety in Bangladesh. The few remaining brands outside the accord now need to consider their position even more urgently. No-one's life should be worth as little as a few extra pence on a t-shirt.”

A list of factories that the accord will cover is expected to be published in the next few weeks.

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