US announces safety grant for Bangladesh factories

Body carried from Rana Plaza. 9 May 2013
Image caption The Rana Plaza factory building collapsed on 24 April with an unknown number inside.

The US has said it will provide grants to help improve safety standards in Bangladesh garment factories.

The US Labor Department will give $2.5m (£1.6m) to help improve the enforcement of fire and safety standards and ensure better protection of workers.

The grants come amid concerns over safety standards in Bangladesh's garment factories, one of the biggest employers in the country.

In April, the collapse of a factory killed more than 1,100 people.

The Rana Plaza incident, Bangladesh's worst industrial tragedy, triggered calls for greater scrutiny of working conditions in Bangladesh factories - most of which make garments for the US and European markets.

Western retailers and the Bangladeshi government announced a series of measures to improve conditions for the country's millions of clothing workers, something which activists have been demanding for years.

Several big names, including Sweden's H&M, the biggest buyer of Bangladeshi-made clothes, signed up to a legally-binding code requiring them not just to meet minimum fire and building safety standards, but also to pay for them.

"In recent months, the government of Bangladesh, industry, worker and civil society organisations and other groups have engaged in stepped-up efforts to address fire and building safety concerns," the Department of Labor said in a statement.

"The government and other stakeholders, however, have a great deal of additional work to do in order to implement existing and developing plans.

"The Department of Labor's funding of technical assistance represents one important element in a broader strategy to address these issues."

The funding will be awarded through the department's Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

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