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European garment brands to end Bangladesh factory inspections

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Dhaka (AFP)

A monitoring group set up by top European clothing brands to check worker safety standards in Bangladesh said Wednesday it will wrap up in May, more than six years after the collapse of a garment factory prompted the intervention by retailers.

The multi-storey Rana Plaza factory complex, where workers were making clothes for top global brands, collapsed in April 2013 killing at least 1,134 people and injuring another 2,000.

The tragedy, triggered by issues such as flagrant disregard of building codes and safety regulations, prompted global fashion brands to set up two monitoring agencies to inspect Bangladesh's 4,500 apparel factories.

Accord, the bigger of the two groups and established by some 200 European brands including H&M, Tesco and Carrefour, inspected some 1,650 factories.

With its five-year mandate long expired, Bangladeshi manufacturers have been demanding Accord shut up shop, as as they feared the group would widen its scope to areas such as workers rights.

Another group, called Alliance, was made up mostly of North American retailers and wound up operations after inspecting nearly 1,000 factories.

On Wednesday, Accord and Bangladeshi garment manufacturers signed an agreement to set up a new Ready-made Garment Sustainability Council (RSC) to take over the work of the Accord by May 31.

"We are taking over from Accord all of its resources and will follow their protocols along with inserting a national context" said Rubana Huq, the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

"It is an important milestone," Accord spokesman Joris Oldenziel told AFP.

He said retailers, unions and manufacturers will have representatives on the council, a national initiative, which will carry forward the work of Accord to ensure safety in factories.

"Accord has been very successful in preventing factory accidents... but still a lot of work needs to be done," Oldenziel said.

Union leader Babul Akter gave the new RSC a guarded welcome.

"We'll be observing how it performs. We hope it can work independently just like the Accord and its work will be legally-binding," he told AFP.

Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest garment maker after China, with $35 billion dollars of exports a year.

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