Italian apparel retailer Benetton on Tuesday joined a group of prominent global brands that have pledged to improve working conditions in garment factories in Bangladesh, following the collapse of a building housing garment factories that took the lives of more than 1,100 workers. The Italian company agreed to sign a binding pact aimed at expanding workers' rights and avoiding doing business with unsafe factories, according to a company spokesperson.
Many retailers have agreed to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, including H&M, Primark, C&A, and Zara parent Inditex. The companies join a pair of retailers that signed the pact last year: PVH -- which owns the labels Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod -- and German retailer Tchibo. Workers' rights groups hoped that H&M’s recently announced involvement would incite other retailers to follow suit.
"This agreement foresees, amongst other initiatives, a joint systems of inspections, training and financial commitments specific to Bangladesh and necessary to build a sustainable garment industry in that country thanks to the direct involvement all of interested parties," said Benetton chief executive officer Biagio Chiarolanza in a statement Tuesday.
Now that another major multinational retailer has added its brand to the accord, pressure is mounting on other major players that have yet to participate -- including the largest retailer on earth, Walmart.
The American company has not yet revealed if it is considering signing the pact, but it did release a statement on Monday asking the Bangladesh government to stop production at one apparel factory in the country and inspect conditions at another.
Gap said in a statement on Monday that it was ready to sign, but only after a change is made in the way disputes are resolved in courts.
Though the text of the accord has not been made public, the pact has been portrayed by participants as a collective call to improve conditions in dangerous factories, such as bolstering fire safety and the structural integrity of buildings. The accord is understood to signal a coming expansion of workers' rights, including the power to refuse dangerous assignments. Labor groups imposed a Wednesday deadline for businesses to sign the agreement.
Benetton has received much criticism in the wake of the disaster. After initially denying any connection to the collapsed building, shirts bearing its brand’s labels were found in the building’s rubble.
In his first interview following the collapse, Chiarolanza told The Huffington Post that his company had bought shirts from New Wave Style, which operated one of several garment factories inside the doomed Rana Plaza building.
Chiarolanza said Benetton intended to remain in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future, arguing that manufacturing jobs help workers and the local economy -- though he added that workplace conditions need to be improved.
“It’s not the solution to go outside from Bangladesh or to think in the future we can leave Bangladesh,” Chiarolanza said in the interview last week. “I spent some period of my life in this part of the world, and I believe -- I really believe -- Benetton and other international brands can help these countries improve their condition.”