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 May 03, 2013
Wal-Mart to J.C. Penney join Bangladesh safety talks

 Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. were among retailers sending representatives to a meeting near Frankfurt to discuss allying to improve worker safety in Bangladesh after that nation's biggest industrial disaster.

The talks, organized by Germany's international cooperation service known as GIZ, were aimed at winning support from the companies, labor unions and non-governmental groups for Bangladesh's national action plan and for supplier assessments of fire and building risk, said Peter McAllister, a director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, who attended. A document covering the talks will be published May 15, he said.

The discussions were also aimed at winning backing for remediation programs to make existing buildings safe, McAllister said. The European Union, the country's largest trading partner, has said it may apply sanctions after the disaster.

"There will be a strong call for as many brands as we can, who source in Bangladesh, to get behind" the paper calling for higher safety standards, McAllister said.

Rescue efforts continued today at a factory complex in Savar, Bangladesh. The buildings collapsed on April 24, killing at least 433 people.

The disaster was at least the third reported industrial accident in the South Asian nation since November, when 112 people died in a fire at a workshop that was producing clothes for companies including Wal-Mart. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer was not involved in production at the affected factories in Savar, 15 miles northwest of Dhaka.

"We are continuing to work with the industry association, suppliers, brands and other interested parties to come to an appropriate resolution," Kevin Gardner, a spokesman for Wal- Mart, said in an emailed response to questions.

J.C. Penney will "take an active part in the dialogue that aims to come up with a comprehensive approach --- that includes multiple stakeholders --- to solving the factory safety issues in Bangladesh," Daphne Avila, a spokeswoman for J.C. Penney, said in an email.

The April 29 meeting was set up by GIZ, a branch of Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Federal Ministry of Finance, according to the organization's website.

"It is very unlikely that we will find any more survivors," Mir Rabbi, a duty officer at the control room supervising the salvage effort, said Thursday. While rescuers have pulled 2,437 people alive from the rubble, at least 149 people are still missing, Rabbi said.

Bangladesh's High Court on April 30 ordered officials to seize assets belonging to Sohel Rana, owner of the eight-story Rana Plaza and member of the ruling Awami League political party's youth wing, as well as those of four owners of garment factories in the complex.

The EU said it's considering action under its trade rules to encourage changes in the nation's supply-chain operations.

"The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building's construction is finally becoming clear to the world," EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs, said in a joint statement April 30. To encourage responsible management of supply chains, the EU is considering action through its Generalized System of Preferences program, which gives Bangladesh duty- and quota-free access to its market, he said.

Building owner Rana, 38, was flown to Dhaka after being arrested in the western border town of Benapole. Rana had planned to flee into India, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, state minister for local government, told cheering relatives of victims at the disaster site April 28. Police have arrested executives of four apparel makers housed in the building.

After cracks were found in the building on April 23, Rana forced workers to return to their posts and said it was safe as it was being checked by engineers, according to Mokhlesur Rahman, director general of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite law-enforcement agency.