British High Street retailers, including Tesco and Primark have signed up to an agreement to improve working conditions in factories used by the companies in Bangladesh.
The pledge, which was also signed by global giants H&M, Zara and Inditex, will help finance improvements to fire safety and buildings that house clothing factories in the country and comes as the death toll from the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka topped 1100.
In a further boost to the country’s four million-strong garment sector work force, the Bangladeshi government also agreed on Monday to allow workers to form trade unions and raise the minimum wage.
Workers in Bangladesh’s $18 billion clothing sector are some of the lowest paid in the world with those working at the Rana Plaza paid as little as £25 a month.
Swedish retailer H&M buys more clothes from Bangladesh than anyone else and said it hoped other retailers would sign up to the agreement, which aims to make mandatory independent factory safety inspections, public reports, and repairs and renovations.
Spanish firm Inditex, parent company of Zara and the biggest fashion retailer in the world, added its support to the deal.
Primark, one of the key customers at the collapsed building, became the first UK retailer to sign up.
The death toll from the collapse, the world’s worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster in Indiain 1984, now stands at 1,127.
Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world after China and Italy. The industry has allowed millions of women from poor rural backgrounds to earn a living.
However minimum wages for garment workers were last raised by 80% to 3,000 takas (£25) a month in 2010 following protests by workers.
Since 2005, at least 1,800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh, according to research by the advocacy group International Labour Rights Forum.
In November, 112 workers were killed in a garment factory in Dhaka. The factory lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three of the eight-story building were built legally.
Endemic corruptions means owners and constructors can routinely ignore health and safety regulations.