Brief Bangladesh Update
December 13, 2013
I write with several brief updates on the worker safety issues in the Bangladesh garment industry, as follows:
- Three university licensees have now signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh: Knights Apparel, adidas and, most recently, Top of the World.
- The WRC recently published a report on fire safety violations at Optimum Fashion, a factory producing collegiate apparel for VF Corporation. You can read the report here. Additional fire safety reports on collegiate factories are forthcoming.
- The Toronto Star published an important story on the actions of Walmart, the leading company in the “Alliance,” a program established by a number of US apparel brands and retailers that has been presented as an alternative to the Accord, but which represents a far weaker approach to the vital worker safety issues in Bangladesh. The story reveals that the loans Walmart promised to make available to factories to fund safety renovations have not materialized – Walmart claimed it had offered loans to factories and that the factories had refused, but factories told the story’s author that no such offers had ever been made. Since Walmart’s promise of $50 million in loans represents half of the entire Alliance loan program, Walmart’s failure to deliver, and lack of candor, confirms some of our worst fears about what the Alliance will look like in practice. The Toronto Star article can be found here.
- The Accord has worked with the technical advisors to the Bangladesh government, and with representatives of Walmart and Gap acting (on behalf of the Alliance), to ensure that there will not be conflicting safety standards for factories in Bangladesh. While a common standard is important, it is genuinely independent safety inspections, real public transparency, financial support for factories to make crucial safety upgrades, and robust worker involvement in safety management that will be the decisive factors in bringing an end to the deadly disasters in Bangladesh. In all of those areas, the Alliance companies continue to refuse to make the binding and enforceable commitments that the Accord’s 120-plus signatory companies have made. This is why the WRC has advised affiliate universities to require licensees to join the Accord, not the Alliance. For an important perspective on this question, please see this letter to the WRC from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, the nation’s leading labor rights organization.
- The US Marine Corps, which operates a substantial licensing program, had announced that it will require all licensees to be signatories to the Accord. The NY Times reported on this decision. You can read the Times article here.
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