Clothing Retailers Create Alliances to Improve Garment Worker Safety

Last week, seventy-five organizations, primarily European retailers and trade unions announced they have signed an agreement to improve factory safety conditions in Bangladesh. Two days later, seventeen North American retail companies announced they are joining forces with the same intent.

Both alliances, of course, are responses to the more than 1,000 workers who were killed this year when one of the many Bangladesh garment factories collapsed. A fire last year killed more than 100.

Both groups pledge safety audits, support for common safety standards, worker training and financial support to help factory owners invest in safer facilities. According to media reports, the European pact includes legally binding provisions that most American retailers balked at, which led to the two different approaches to the issue.

Only three U.S. companies signed the European pact: Abercrombie and Fitch, PVH, (the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), and Sean John.

According to the U.S.-centric group called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, signatories include:  Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter’s Inc.; The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.; Gap Inc.; Hudson’s Bay Company; IFG Corp.; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; The Jones Group Inc.; Kohl’s Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; Macy’s; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Setting aside comparisons about how effective each approach will be, it is still remarkable how many organizations are responding to the situation. As they implement policies, good guides for them are the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Principles of Sustainability and Social Responsibility. These principles are practitioner-driven and carefully crafted to ensure application within the supply professionals’ company and through the supply base. Companies following guidance for health and safety, human rights, and labor rights principles will have gone a long way toward protecting workers throughout the supply chain.


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