An alliance of 17 North American retailers on Wednesday unveiled the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, a binding five-year agreement that aims to improve factory safety conditions in Bangladesh.
The deal was developed over the past five weeks under the guidance of former Sens. George J. Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, acting as independent facilitators at the Bipartisan Policy Center, following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April, which resulted in more than 1,100 deaths.
“We sought and received input from a wide range of interested parties, including, among others, the governments of Bangladesh and the United States, fire and safety experts and worker representatives,” Mitchell said in a written statement. “While there were many differences in interests and on issues, the dominant common theme was the importance, indeed the necessity, of developing and implementing a meaningful plan of action to dramatically improve worker safety in the garment industry in Bangladesh.”
The initiative calls for inspections of all alliance-member factories within the first year, common safety standards to be developed within the next three months and inspection results to be shared transparently. It also calls for all alliance factories to actively support the democratic election and successful operation of “worker participation committees” at each factory, and includes a role for an independent chairman, who will be responsible for oversight. Under the initiative’s inspection program, inspectors also will prioritize factory safety risks for remediation efforts and have been empowered to report to the alliance, worker participation committees, building owners and the Bangladeshi government any dangerous safety conditions.
Alliance members are providing the $42 million in funding to support the initiative throughout its five-year period. Some companies also have offered an additional combined total of $100 million in loans and access to capital to assist factory owners they work with in Bangladesh for factory safety improvements.
The 17 retailers participating in the initiative are Canadian Tire, Carter’s, The Children’s Place Retail Stores, Gap, Hudson’s Bay, IFG, J.C. Penney, The Jones Group, Kohl’s Department Stores, L.L. Bean, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Public Clothing, Sears Holdings, Target, VF and Wal-Mart.
“We can prevent future tragedies by consolidating and amplifying our individual efforts to bring about real and sustained progress,” the CEOs of the alliance members said in a joint letter. “We’ll use the power of the newly created alliance to find other sources of funding to support additional infrastructure improvement, including working closely with government agencies around the world.”
The European Union, in collaboration with the Bangladeshi government, has also released an initiative to improve conditions for workers in the South Asian nation’s garment factories, although several American companies said they disliked the plan because it was legally binding and might subject them to lawsuits. Major U.S. and European retailers had previously disagreed on how to ensure worker safety in Bangladesh in the weeks immediately following the Rana Plaza tragedy.