* Companies to pool data on factories for first time

* Initial inspections due within nine months

* Brands agree to help fund safety improvements

* Officials meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss safety and trade

By Emma Thomasson

ZURICH, July 8 (Reuters) - A group of mainly European retailers has finalised a plan to conduct coordinated inspections of factories in Bangladesh in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,129 people in April.

The collapse of Rana Plaza, a factory built on swampy ground outside Dhaka, on April 24 ranks among the world's worst industrial accidents and has galvanised brands to look more closely at their suppliers.

The new accord was launched by trade unions in May and signed by 70 brands, including the world's two biggest fashion retailers, Inditex and H&M, which have agreed to accept legal responsibility for safety at their Bangladesh factories.

But a number of U.S. chains, including Wal-Mart, Gap , Macy's, Sears and JC Penney, have shunned the deal, saying that it gives labour unions too much control over ensuring workplace safety and have proposed a non-binding initiative.

The largely European plan, coordinated by Switzerland-based unions IndustriALL and UNI Global, involves the creation of a team of inspectors to evaluate fire, electrical, structural and worker safety in factories supplying signatory brands.

In a report published on Monday, the implementation team said that all 70 signatory brands had to provide full details of the Bangladesh factories from which they source goods - the first time such data would be collected or shared in such a comprehensive way.

Every factory will undergo an initial inspection within the next nine months, with repairs initiated where necessary and a process put in place to allow companies or workers to report problems with buildings that pose an immediate risk.

Employees were forced to go to work at Rana Plaza even after huge cracks appeared in the walls a day before the building collapsed.


FUNDING

About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh's clothing sector, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter behind China. The industry employs mostly women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month.

Bangladesh has pledged to improve safety, but it has not pledged new money to relocate dangerous buildings.

"Brand signatories are responsible to ensure that sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements," Monday's report said.

Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer and one of the accord signatories, last month said that it has stopped sourcing clothes from a Bangladesh site because of safety concerns.

North American retailers and trade associations are believed to be putting the finishing touches on their own Bangladesh safety agreement. Jason Grumet, president of the Washington think-tank helping to coordinate the effort, last month said the process was on track to be completed in July.

European, Bangladeshi and U.S. officials will meet in Geneva on Monday for talks aimed at improving safety conditions and discussing the country's trade benefits, which the EU has threatened to suspend.

Tax concessions offered by Western countries and the low wages paid by the manufacturers have helped to turn Bangladesh's garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry, with 60 percent of clothes going to Europe.

In late June, U.S. President Barack Obama cut off U.S. trade benefits for Bangladesh in a mostly symbolic response to conditions in the country's garment sector, given that clothing is not eligible for U.S. duty cuts.


Also on HuffPost:

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  • PVH

    PVH, the company that owns labels Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod labels, initially made a commitment to factory safety in March 2012 and reaffirmed its<a href="http://www.pvh.com/investor_relations_press_release_article.aspx?reqid=1818634" target="_blank"> commitment after the Bangladesh factory collapse</a>, according to a company press release. PVH has pledged <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-14/h-m-inditex-joining-bangladesh-pact-pressures-wal-mart-retail.html" target="_blank">$2.5 million to the accord</a>, Bloomberg News reports.

  • Tchibo

    German retailer Tchibo also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/benetton-bangladesh-safety-pact_n_3272219.html?1368543349" target="_blank">signed on to the pact last year</a>.

  • H&M

    Swedish retailer H&M became the first company in the wake of the Bangladesh building collapse to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/hm-bangladesh_n_3265762.html?1368453479&utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">sign the safety pact</a>. The company said in a statement that it hoped the agreement would help lead to an "industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures."

  • C&A

    Just hours after H&M made their announcement to sign on to the pact, Dutch retailer <a href="http://www.retaildetail.eu/en/eur-europe/eur-fashion/item/15151-hm-inditex-and-ca-sign-charter-for-safer-factories-in-bangladesh" target="_blank">C&A followed suit</a>.

  • Inditex SA

    Inditex SA, owner of the Zara chain, committed to the pact as well. A spokesperson told CNBC that "the accord has not come out yet, but as you know <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/100731788" target="_blank">we have played a very active part in its development</a>."

  • Tesco

    "For the multinational retailers like Tesco who source from Bangladesh, we must help it to <a href="https://www.tescoplc.com/talkingshop/index.asp?blogid=114" target="_blank">change in a positive way</a>, a way which sustains and improves the livelihoods of all those who work in the industry," Kevin Grace, director of Tesco, wrote in a blog post about the British retailer's decision to join the pact.

  • Benetton

    After initially <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/29/bennetton-bangladesh-factory-collapse_n_3179523.html" target="_blank">denying its ties to the collapsed Bangladesh factory</a> only to admit later that its <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2321843/Benetton-admits-clothes-illegal-Bangladesh-factory-collapsed-killing-900-workers.html" target="_blank">clothes were indeed made there</a>, Italian fashion brand <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/benetton-bangladesh-safety-pact_n_3272219.html?1368539289" target="_blank">Benetton committed to the pact on May 14</a>, according to a company spokesperson.

  • El Corte Ingles

    The Spanish department store group El Corte Ingles said their suppliers signed on to the pact, Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium told The Huffington Post.

  • Next

    Nova also confirmed that British retailer Next has signed on to the accord.

  • Primark

    Primark, a British retailer that <a href="http://business.time.com/2013/05/02/bangladesh-factory-collapse-is-there-blood-on-your-shirt/" target="_blank">admitted some of its clothing was made at the collapsed factory</a>, was also one of the first retailers to <a href="http://metro.co.uk/2013/05/14/primark-hm-and-zara-sign-bangladesh-safety-agreement-3758237/" target="_blank">sign on to the pact</a>.

  • Mango

    Mango, which was one of the companies that <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/30/jcpenney-mango-among-companies-that-used-fatal-bangladesh-factory.html" target="_blank">sourced products from the fatal factory,</a> agreed to the accord, a spokesperson told The Huffington Post.

  • Marks & Spencer

    British retailer Marks & Spencer, which <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us-bangladesh-building-safetybre94d0i3-20130514,0,3758384.story" target="_blank">sources from 60 factories in Bangladesh</a> according to the Chicago Tribune, committed to the accord on May 13.

  • Carrefour

    The French retailer <a href="http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=OBR&date=20130514&id=16476984" target="_blank">Carrefour</a> announced on May 14 that it would sign the accord, according to Reuters.

  • Loblaw Companies

    Loblaw Companies, the owner of Joe Fresh, committed to the accord on May 14 according to a statement emailed to The Huffington Post. The Canadian brand was <a href="http://business.time.com/2013/05/02/bangladesh-factory-collapse-is-there-blood-on-your-shirt/" target="_blank">manufacturing apparel</a> at the Rana Plaza factory, Time reports.

  • Abercrombie & Fitch

    Abercrombie & Fitch verbally agreed to the accord on May 15, a company spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost.

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