Apparel Makers Join Forces to Ensure Worker Safety in Bangladesh
More than 1,500 garment workers died and more than 1,000 were seriously injured in three recent highly publicized tragedies in Bangladesh, the collapse of the Rana Plaza and a sweater factory fire in Dhaka in 2013 and the 2012 fire in the Tazreen garment factory. People in these factories work deep within the supply chain of large apparel makers and retailers. Global companies that source their products from Bangladesh have been under extreme pressure to take action that will help avoid such accidents in the future.
In May of this year, three weeks after the Rana building collapse, a number of clothing makers around the world joined together to create a legally binding agreement to improve safety and working conditions for factories in Bangledesh. More than 70 apparel companies, mostly European, and a few American brands including PVH (parent of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), and Abercombie & Fitch signed on.
The five-year agreement calls for independent site safety inspection and public reporting of the results. It also requires these companies to help finance safety improvements in the factories of their suppliers. Companies also commit to stop doing business with factories that fail to make the necessary improvements. The agreement has been backed by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union, which represent workers in 140 countries.
Many large U.S. retailers who refused to sign the initial agreement worked over the past five weeks to develop another plan announced on July 10th, called The Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative. So far 17 retailers have signed on, including Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Kohl's, Macy's, Sears, The Children's Place, and L.L. Bean.
This plan, also a five-year initiative, calls for common safety standards, inspection of all Bangladesh factories in the company’s supply chains within the first year, public sharing of the results, and financing for improvements. Yet some international labor organizations, including the Worker Rights Consortium, have criticized the agreement as not enough to make meaningful changes. For example, inspections will be completed by firms hired by the retailers rather than independent third parties and there aren’t sufficient consequences for companies who don’t respond to issues.
The European Union and the United States have both put Bangladesh on warning that they would lose key trade privileges if the country’s industries didn’t greatly improve working conditions.
Sources and for more information:
Michael Kramer, How clothing makers can step up to ensure worker safety, GreenBiz, July 10, 2013. http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/07/10/clothing-makers-must-step-up-worker-safety?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRokv63NZKXonjHpfsX56%2BwkUKK1lMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4DTsdrI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFSLHEMa5qw7gMXRQ%3D
Emily Jane Fox, Wal-Mart, Gap sign Bangladesh safety agreement. CNN Money, July 10, 2013
Tara Norton. Putting More Muscle, Brains and Heart into Sustainable Procurement, BSR, May 29, 2013. http://www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/blog-view/putting-more-muscle-brains-and-heart-into-sustainable-procurement
A Deeper Look: Lessons from Rana Plaza. BSR. 2013. http://www.bsr.org/en/topic/rana-plaza