Photos by Farad Hossain for Associated Press
Four of the world’s largest retailers have consented to a legally binding, first-of-its-kind contract that requires Western businesses to help finance improvements in the factories they use in Bangladesh. Three weeks after a building collapse outside Dhaka killed more than 1,100 workers, H&M, the biggest purchaser of garments from the South Asian country, and Inditex, which owns fast-fashion juggernaut Zara, agreed within minutes of each other on Monday to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Britain’s Primark and C&A in the Netherlands followed their lead hours later, approving a stakeholder-drafted plan that calls for independent building inspections, public disclosure of audit results, mandatory building renovations to address hazards, and union access to factories to educate workers on their rights and their safety.
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“The accord includes all of the components essential to be effective: independent safety inspections with public reports, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands and retailers to underwrite the costs and to terminate business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety upgrades, and a vital role for workers and their unions,” says Ineke Zeldenrust, a spokeswoman from the Clean Clothes Campaign, in a statement. “At the heart of the agreement is the commitment by companies to pay for the renovations and repairs necessary to make factory buildings in Bangladesh safe.”
Zeldenrust urges all other businesses sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the accord before May 15, particularly those whose labels or purchase orders were found in the Rana Plaza rubble, including Benetton, Cato Fashions, The Children’s Place, El Corte Inglés, and Loblaw (which owns Joe Fresh).
Labor activists urge all businesses sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the accord before May 15.
“With 1,250 workers killed in the last six months in Bangladesh, it is now time for companies to move beyond vague promises, business-as-usual self-regulatory schemes and rhetoric, and to sign a binding safety agreement that can finally bring an end to the horror in Bangladesh,” she says. “More than one million global consumers have signed petitions calling brands to take action: All brands should now sign.”
H&M, Inditex, C&A, and Primark join PvH Corp., which owns the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, and Tchibo, a German coffee retailer that also sells clothes, as co-signatories of the agreement. Gap has famously resisted the accord, objecting to the legally binding clauses and claiming it was doing plenty by hiring a fire inspector and pledging $22 million for factory improvements.
Walmart, which was implicated in the Tazreen Fashions factory fire that killed 112 people in November, helped bankroll an Environmental Health and Safety Academy in Bangladesh. The world’s No. 1 retailer has so far declined to join other companies in voluntarily compensating the victims and family of the disaster, however.