Despite the string of tragic incidents in Bangladesh RMG units last year, Woolworths continued to place clothing orders with a Bangladeshi company whose textile factory burnt down last year, killing seven workers. It has published a list of names and addresses of 52 supplier factories in Bangladesh, from whom it sources products, which have drawn international scrutiny for its string of industrial disasters.
The decision by Woolworths to reveal its source factories has put pressure on other retailers to do the same. Kmart was the first Australian company to list its Bangladeshi suppliers, late last year. It has since added factories in Cambodia, India and Indonesia. Target has decided to publish its factory list this year, with Indian and Chinese factories to follow. It is a signatory of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The Cotton On Group, also a signatory, said publishing the list was on its priority. Pacific Brands, with brands such as Bonds and Berlei also plans to post a list this year. As a signatory, it disclosed its Bangladeshi suppliers to the accord, which later published a broader list. The Just Group, with brands such as Just Jeans and Portmans, has signed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and has not published the list of factories.
Sixth on Woolworth’s list is Aswad Composite Mills unit two in Savar, a subsidiary of Palmal Group, one of Bangladesh's biggest clothing manufacturers. Aswad's Gazipur factory burnt down in October and seven workers died after a heating chimney caught fire. Woolworths, which owns Big W, at the time could deny that it had sourced fabric from Aswad in Gazipur because it ordered through Palmal. Woolworths said the Aswad factory on its list did not refer to the one gutted by the fire, and that in the month of the tragedy it had become a signatory of the legally binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, designed to prevent further disasters.
The Gazipur factory also made fabric for Kmart, Target, and Just Group. The Aswad fire was the latest in a series of industrial disasters in Bangladesh's massive but poorly-regulated garment industry. Five fires and building collapses killed more than 1200 workers in the 12 months to last October.