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Puma signs Bangladesh factory safety pact

German sportswear giant Puma said Wednesday it would sign a new safety pact for Bangladesh's disaster-hit garment factories amid calls for Western brands to help improve workers' conditions.

Puma signs Bangladesh factory safety pact
Pictures of people missing at the Savar disaster. Photo: DPA

Puma said it would sign the Bangladesh safety agreement set up by global trade union IndustriALL and make sure that its six supplier factories in Bangladesh “adhered to high standards of social and working conditions, ensuring the safety and health of its workers”.

By signing the agreement, Puma’s supplier factories will have to undergo independent safety inspections and audit reports will be made public.

Carrying out repairs and renovations that recommended by the independent inspections are mandatory for the supplier.

While European brands such as H&M, Zara, Marks & Spencer and major supermarket buyers have committed to the agreement and its fire and building inspection regime in the wake of the Bangladesh garment factory tragedy in April, US retailers such as Gap and Walmart have refused to sign up.

“The agreement requires Puma to underwrite the costs and to cut off business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety upgrades. It gives workers and their unions a role in the process according to the non-profit Worker Rights Consortium,” chief commercial officer Stefano Caroti said.

Puma sources 11 percent of its apparel products from six supplier factories in Bangladesh.

More than 1,100 workers were killed when a building housing several factories collapsed in Savar just outside the capital Dhaka in April, highlighting the poor safety record of the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China.

International workers’ associations such as Swiss-based UNI and IndustriALL Global Union have pressured Western retailers to sign up to the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents 4,500 garment factories, has welcomed the agreement as “a reflection of Western retailers’ long term commitment to Bangladesh”.

It says retailers accounting for about half of the country’s $20 billion apparel sales have now signed up.

On Wednesday, French retailer Auchan joined the group, saying it had penned the agreement “despite its imperfections” on the grounds that it ensures fire and building safety.

The company also said it was working on “a very concrete action plan to secure traceability of (its) brands”.

Walmart, which accounts for 10 percent of orders in Bangladesh, is the most significant player to opt out of the deal.

AFP/hc

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German Amazon workers strike on ‘Black Friday’

Amazon workers in Germany started a three-day strike Thursday timed to disrupt the online retailer's "Black Friday" sales bonanza.

German Amazon workers strike on 'Black Friday'
Signs for the Amazon strike in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

The strike, called by the powerful Verdi union, is set to last until Saturday and marks the latest escalation in a years-long battle with Amazon for better pay and working conditions.

“We estimate that around 2,500 people went on strike today, a higher number than in similar actions in the past and given the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic, it's a big success,” a Verdi spokesman told AFP.

To limit the risk of Covid-19 infections, the union said it was not staging any rallies during the strike.

Amazon in a statement said the walkouts were not affecting customer deliveries since “the majority of employees are working as normal”.

The stoppage affected Amazon distribution facilities in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Augsburg, Rheinberg, Werne and Koblenz.

Verdi has long wanted Amazon to sign on to regional wage agreements covering retail and e-commerce, and has organised numerous walkouts in recent years.

It also wants Amazon to improve health and safety at work, accusing the retail giant of not doing enough to protect staff from the coronavirus at some of its German sites.

Amazon defended its policies, saying it offered “excellent” wages, benefits and career opportunities in a “modern, safe” work environment.

The company employs more than 16,000 people in Germany and has taken on an additional 10,000 seasonal employees to cope with a boom in online shopping triggered by the pandemic.

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