Update on Bangladesh Worker Safety Breakthrough

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova
Date:June 3, 2013
Re:Update on Bangladesh Worker Safety Breakthrough

I write to update you on a major breakthrough in efforts to address the fire and building safety crisis in Bangladesh.

The pervasively unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry represent one of the most serious labor rights issue in the world today – and a major challenge for university licensors, because Bangladesh now ranks among the top producers of university logo apparel. The dangers facing workers were tragically illustrated by the horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza building on April 24, which claimed the lives of at least 1,129 workers. 
In the wake of this horrific disaster, there is finally positive news to report. As you know, the WRC, together with several other organizations, has been working for several years to develop a robust and enforceable program to identify and remedy safety risks in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Prior to the Rana disaster, however, only two companies—PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Izod and other clothing brands, and the German retailer, Tchibo—had signed-on to the program.  Additional companies were needed for the initiative to be implemented. Following the Rana collapse and the extensive media attention surrounding it, the effort has quickly gained steam and is moving forward.

I am pleased to report that, as of today, 43 brands and retailers have signed-on to a program, closely modeled on the original PVH agreement, called the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh. These companies include many major industry players: PVH (the world’s largest shirt-seller), H&M (the largest global buyer from Bangladesh), Tesco (the third-largest retailer in the world), and Inditex (the world’s largest fashion retailer, owner of Zara, among other brands).  A full list of companies that have signed to Accord to date is provided below. We estimate that these companies represent more than 1,500 factories in Bangladesh, employing more than one million workers. The participation of such a wide breadth of the industry in a serious program to tackle the crisis is a massive and desperately needed breakthrough. 

The majority of companies that have joined the Accord thus far are based in countries in Europe. However, three major U.S.-based companies have joined—PVH, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Sean John—with revenues together totaling $11 billion.

The agreement, the full text of which can be found here, contains all of the key elements needed to make real change in Bangladesh.  As in the original PVH agreement, in signing the Accord, participating companies have made a contractually enforceable commitment to:

  • Require all of their supplier factories in Bangladesh to submit to rigorous fire and building safety inspections, led by recognized, independent fire safety experts 
  • Accept public disclosure of all inspection reports 
  • Require all suppliers to implement all repairs and renovations necessary to make their factories safe, as determined through the inspection process 
  • Underwrite the cost of the necessary repairs and renovations and maintain orders for at least two years with those suppliers that undertake the needed renovations and operate safely
  • Require suppliers to allow worker representatives into their factories to educate workers about workplace safety and worker rights 
  • Cease doing business with any supplier that fails to comply with any of the above

Many of these commitments are unprecedented in the global apparel industry. Brands have never previously made binding commitments to labor groups that require them to fund improvements in labor conditions or to make multi-year commitments to suppliers. 

The WRC, which played a key role in designing the Accord, is now collaborating with others as part of a design team to draft the implementation plan. Ultimately, the agreement will be governed by a 6-member steering committee, with a representative of the ILO serving as chair.

As we previously reported, it is the WRC’s intention, once the program is up and running and there is a system in place to enable the participation of smaller companies, to urge university licensees to join the initiative. This will be by far the most effective mechanism for licensees sourcing from Bangladesh, of which there are many, to ensure that collegiate apparel is made under safe conditions. We expect that a protocol enabling smaller companies to sign on will be developed early in the implementation process. We look forward to communicating with licensees further on this subject in the near term.

Below please find a full list of companies that have signed-on to the Accord to date, as well as a number of relevant news articles on the breakthrough. 

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. 

Company Signatories to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh, as of May 31, 2013

  • H&M (the largest producer in Bangladesh) 
  • Carrefour (the second largest general retailer in the world, after Walmart) 
  • Tesco (the third largest general retailer in the world) 
  • Inditex (the owner of Zara and now the largest fashion retailer in the world) 
  • PVH (the world’s largest shirt-seller; owner of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and other brands) 
  • El Corte Inglés (the largest department store chain in Europe) 
  • Abercrombie & Fitch 
  • Puma 
  • Aldi North 
  • Aldi South 
  • Benetton 
  • Bonmarche 
  • C&A (largest apparel retailer in the Netherlands) 
  • Charles Vögele 
  • Comtex 
  • Ernsting’s Family 
  • Esprit 
  • Fat Face 
  • G-star 
  • Helly Hansen 
  • Hema 
  • Hess Natur 
  • Jbc 
  • John Lewis 
  • Kik 
  • Lidl 
  • Loblaw 
  • Mango 
  • Marks & Spencer 
  • Mothercare 
  • N Brown 
  • New Look 
  • Next 
  • Otto Group 
  • Primark 
  • s.Oliver 
  • Sainsbury’s 
  • Sean John 
  • Stockmann 
  • Switcher 
  • Tally Weijl 
  • Tchibo 
  • V&D 
  • We Europe 
  • Zeeman 


Collapse’s Toll in Bangladesh Exceeds 800, Associated Press, May 8, 2013 
Major Retailers Join Bangladesh Safety Plan, NY Times, May 13, 2013 
H&M, Zara to sign Bangladesh factory safety accord, USA Today, May 13, 2013
Major Retailers Agree to Basic Safety Accord in Bangladesh, The Atlantic, May 13, 2013 
Abercrombie & Fitch Signs Bangladesh Safety Plan, NY Times, May 15, 2013 
U.S. retailers and the Bangladesh accord, SF Chronicle, May 15, 2013
Abercrombie & Fitch sign landmark safety plan in Bangladesh, MSN Now, May 17, 2013 
US retail under pressure on Bangladesh deal, Financial Times, May 16, 2013
More Retailers Join Accord, Natunbarta, May 23, 2013
U.S. urges companies to join Bangladesh safety pact, CBS Money Watch, May 29, 2013

Opinion Pieces 
Worker Safety in Bangladesh and Beyond, NY Times, May 4, 2013
Big Retailers Quit Stalling on Factory Safety, NY Times May 13, 2013 
Wal-Mart, Gap Skirt the Issue, by James Brudney and Catherine Fisk, May 17, 2013