Photo by David Goldman for Associated Press
As pressure from consumer and labor-rights groups over factory safety in Bangladesh intensifies, a number of leading U.S. brands and retailers are drafting a new plan to prevent future workplace disasters in the South Asian nation’s garment industry. Nearly three weeks after a deadly building collapse prompted more than 40 apparel businesses, most of them European, to enter into the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building and Safety in Bangladesh, a North American alliance that includes the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Gap, JCPenney, Sears, Target, and Walmart seeks to “develop and implement a new program to improve fire and safety regulations in the garment factories of Bangladesh,” according to a statement from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank that’s facilitating the effort.
Photo by Ismail Ferdous for Associated Press
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader (and BPC co-founder) George J. Mitchell and former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe convened the first of several working sessions in New York City on Wednesday to establish a “single, unified action plan and schedule” by early July.
The BPC expects to establish a “single, unified action plan and schedule” by early July.
“Since the recent tragedy, the retailers, brands, and trade associations have made considerable individual and collective progress developing new worker safety programs,” Jason Grumet, president of the BPC, said in a press release. “Over the next several weeks, we look forward to building on the efforts of the Safer Factory Initiative and seeking input from key stakeholders to forge an effective response.”
Bill Chandler, Gap’s vice president of global corporate affairs, said in a statement on Friday that the company is hopeful that discussions will result in a “plan for long-lasting change for the garment industry in Bangladesh.”
“We believe the American alliance can be a powerful path forward to achieve lasting change in Bangladesh, and will build upon the work that is already underway,” he added. “We will focus our energies on participating in a way that helps this effort be successful.”
Photo by Justin Sullivan for Getty Images
Not everyone is a fan of the competing proposal, however.
“The idea that you would bring all these people together in this new effort is a good first step,” Richard M. Locke, an expert on overseas manufacturing at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told the New York Times. “But I don’t think it’s good to have competing initiatives.”
U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns over corporate-led labor and safety programs.
Philip J. Jennings, general secretary of Uni Global Union, an international coalition of 20 million retail and service workers that helped develop the initial Bangladesh accord, was less generous. “It’s a sham; there is no valid reason why they can’t join the initiative we have launched,” he said. “[The plan] has been well-received. Now they seem to want to paddle their own canoe on their own terms.”
U.S. lawmakers have likewise raised concerns over corporate-led labor and safety programs. Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, warned last month that the oversight process has been “left up to the retailers, suppliers and government all these years, and that hasn’t worked.”
Echoing that sentiment at a call with reporters on Friday was Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), who also questioned the effectiveness of a non-binding agreement. “What good would this agreement be if it wasn’t binding?” Miller said. “If it’s not enforceable, not binding, then it’s just what we have today: We have statements.”
PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: 15 Major Retailers That Haven’t Signed the Bangladesh Safety Agreement
[Via the New York Times]