Monday, July 15, 2024

US retailers offer safety plan for Bangladesh RMG factories

Over a dozen American retailers including Walmart, Gap, Target, Kohl’s and Macy’s on Wednesday announced a plan for improving factory safety in Bangladesh – an alternative to a plan embraced by 70 retailers and apparel brands, most of them European, reports the New York Times. The proposal calls for the retailers to inspect the estimated 500 factories that the American companies use within 12 months, and then develop plans to fix any substantial safety problems that are found, Steven Greenhouse and Stephanie Clifford of the NYT wrote quoting one official involved in the planning.
Under the effort, called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the participating companies would contribute money — from a modest amount up to $1 million a year, depending on the level of business each does in Bangladesh. This would create a total fund of $40 million to $50 million during the plan’s five years.
While details of the proposal have yet to be fleshed out, it differs from the European-dominated plan in the way the participants take responsibility for safety violations. The Europeans pledge to ensure that there are funds to fix serious fire and building safety problems in any of the factories they use in Bangladesh.
Under the American plan, there is talk of “shared accountability” – the companies would work closely with the factory owners, the government of Bangladesh and various governments and aid agencies to figure out ways to finance safety improvements. If serious safety problems were found at a factory, the plan’s director would inform the Bangladesh government, the factory owner and what the group calls the factory’s “worker participation committee,” a group to be elected by a factory’s workers.
The American retailers plan to develop a common safety standard for the factories by October and to create a clearinghouse to share information among themselves about which factories have been approved for production and which need safety improvements. One retail executive said the American companies would pledge $100 million in loans and other financing to upgrade safety in Bangladesh’s apparel industry.
The 70 companies in the European-dominated effort announced details of their plan on Monday, saying they would have all of the factories they use in Bangladesh inspected within nine months and would have remediation plans developed for those with safety problems. They pledged “to ensure that sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements.”
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporting nation, after China; Europe buys about 60 percent of its exports and the United States around 25 percent.
The chief executives in the alliance made a joint statement Wednesday, saying: “The safety record of Bangladeshi factories is unacceptable and requires our collective effort. We can prevent future tragedies by consolidating and amplifying our individual efforts to bring about real and sustained progress.”
The beginning of the American effort was announced in May, as Walmart, Gap and other American retailers felt pressure to act because the European-dominated accord was gathering momentum and because of the outcry to do more to ensure safety after 1,129 workers died in a factory building collapse in Bangladesh in April.
The plan announced Wednesday includes J.C.?Penney, Carter’s and the Children’s Place and was reached with the help of the Bipartisan Policy Center and two former United States senators from Maine, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe.
Supporters of the European-dominated plan, known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, have pre-emptively criticized the American plan, saying it would achieve less in improving safety because the companies have made a less ambitious commitment to finance safety upgrades. Several American companies have joined the European-dominated plan, including Abercrombie & Fitch and PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.
Critics have faulted the American effort for not including the views of unions or workers in their plan. The Bipartisan Policy Center had invited several labor rights groups to attend a meeting to give their views, but the labor groups boycotted, seeing the American effort as one that was undercutting the European-dominated plan.

-With The Independent input

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