Six major retailers, including Carrefour, Marks & Spencer and El Corte Inglés, announced on Tuesday that they would participate in a landmark plan to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh, joining five European companies that signed onto the plan on Monday.
With only one American company joining — PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger — consumers, investors and labor groups are pressing Gap, Walmart and other American retailers and apparel companies to sign onto the effort. The plan will require participating companies to agree to rigorous inspection of the factories they use in Bangladesh and to help underwrite needed safety improvements at factories with violations.
Late Tuesday afternoon in response to growing criticisms that it was not doing enough to improve factory safety, Walmart announced that its factory monitors would "conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100 percent of the" 279 factories it uses in Bangladesh.
Walmart said it would immediately stop production at factories where urgent safety problems were found and would notify factory owners and government authorities of the need to take action. Walmart stopped short of committing to help underwrite the needed improvements — one of the key aspects of the landmark Bangladesh safety plan that more than a dozen European retailers and apparel brands have embraced since Monday.
Walmart said it would complete reviews of every factory within six months and would post results of these inspections, although it did not say how much information it would post. "Transparency is vital to make progress in improving factory conditions," said Rajan Kamalanathan, vice president of Ethical Sourcing for Walmart.
Once numerous European companies began joining the plan on Monday — led by H&M, the Swedish company that is the largest purchaser of apparel from Bangladesh — a division has appeared between European and American companies about what needs to be done to respond to the April 24 factory building collapse in Bangladesh in which more than 1,100 workers died.
Walmart has maintained a distance from the collapse, even though Ether Tex, one of the factories in the collapsed Rana Plaza building, had listed Walmart as a customer on its Web site.