Asda owner Walmart will not join retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in signing a voluntary accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh.

Instead, the US giant said it would conduct its own safety inspections at factories owned by its Bangladeshi suppliers, as well as offering fire-safety training for all factory employees.

The voluntary accord, drawn up by labour organisations IndustriALL and UNI Global Union, follows the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka on 24 April, which claimed over 1,000 lives.

In a statement yesterday, Walmart said: “While we agree with much of the proposal, the IndustriALL plan also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.

“Walmart believes its safety plan meets or exceeds the IndustriALL proposal, and will get results more quickly”


“Walmart believes its safety plan meets or exceeds the IndustriALL proposal, and will get results more quickly.”

It added that it would continue to be involved in the 45-day discussion period afforded by IndustriALL, and could still join the effort “if the issues with the accord could be addressed”.

The groups behind the accord set a deadline of today for retailers to sign up. Signatories so far include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S, Primark, Inditex (own of Zara), PVH (owner of Calvin Klien/Tommy Hilfiger) and C&A. Gap has said it is willing to sign the agreement but had concerns about its terms on how disputes would be resolved in court.

Anna McMullen, campaign organiser at Labour Behind The Label, said it was “inexcusable” that some brands were dragging their heels on the issue. “It’s really crucial that the American brands get on board. It’s important they get to the negotiating table and get involved, especially given that so many European retailers have signed up to it.”

Murray Worthy, campaigner as War on Want, urged companies to join the effort: “It is appalling to see attempts by companies like Gap and Asda Wal-Mart to try and gut the agreement or propose their own voluntary models of inspection - the same voluntary models that failed so badly and led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people.”

The accord has the backing of UN agency the International Labour Organization (ILO), which said yesterday: “The need for urgent improvement in workplace safety requires the industry to work together to implement a scalable and transparent plan of action that supports the vital role of government and employer and worker organisations in Bangladesh.”