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A customer holds up a shirt in an H&M store in Atlanta in December, 2012. H&M said Monday that it will sign up to a legally-binding safety plan drawn up by unions in Bangladesh, following the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse there last month.

David Goldman/AP

The world's two biggest fashion retailers, Inditex and H&M, along with several other companies have backed an accord aimed at preventing another disaster like last month's Bangladesh factory building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people.

The agreement on fire and building safety, which is being led by the International Labour Organization, trade unions and other lobby groups, has been under negotiation since the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24.

Deadly incidents at factories have focused global attention on safety standards in Bangladesh's booming garment industry, the world's biggest exporter of clothing after China.

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As of Monday, the following companies had announced their support: Inditex, the Spanish parent company of Zara; Sweden's H&M; U.S. apparel maker PVH, whose brands include Calvin Klein; Britain's Tesco; and Primark, the British retailer controlled by Canada's Weston family.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd., whose Joe Fresh apparel was being produced in a factory within the collapsed building in Bangladesh, is reviewing the accord and "not in a position to comment on it yet," spokeswoman Julija Hunter said.

Other big brands involved in the fire-and-building safety talks include Wal-Mart and Gap Inc., which said last year it would launch its own safety program.

Early this month, Loblaw executive chairman Galen G. Weston said the company is embarking on a new program to improve worker safety in Bangladesh. But he said his retail rivals had so far shown a "deafening silence" in the wake of last month's deadly building collapse.

He pledged to place Loblaw's own staff at factories abroad as well as develop a new building standard for any plant producing one of its private labels, which includes Joe Fresh. But he said there had been a general lack of response from other apparel retailers in addressing the "unacceptable risk" workers were exposed to in the Savar building.

As many as 30 global apparel producers were having goods manufactured in the illegally constructed Rana Plaza, according to Mr. Weston. Loblaw and Primark were among the few retailers to quickly acknowledge their ties to the building's factories. More retailers have since made statements on their connection to the Bangladesh building.

Toronto-based anti-sweatshop activist Maquila Solidarity Network called on Loblaw, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc. and other North American retailers to sign on to the building-safety accord.

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"This accord is clearly the way forward for any company that's serious about preventing further deaths in Bangladesh," said Kevin Thomas, director of advocacy for the group.

As each new company signs the agreement, public attention will focus even more on those who hold out, he said.

Reuters, with a report from Marina Strauss

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