Retailers Sign Bangladesh Safety Pact

Working Conditions In The Crosshairs

Retailers Sign Bangladesh Safety PactSeventeen North American retailers have agreed to spend $42 million over a five-year period to address apparel factory conditions in Bangladesh, signing a pact that aims to improve safety and working conditions in the Asian country. The pact comes amid increasing pressure from labor groups following a factory collapse in Bangladesh in April that killed 1,129 workers. "The plan is a significant step toward achieving safer factory conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh," said Glenn Murphy, CEO of Gap, which has agreed to the pact.

The agreement calls for the development of building safety standards over the next three months, inspection of all member factories in the next year, the creation of worker participation committees at each factory and greater transparency in reporting. The pact also directs the appointment of an independent oversight chairperson to monitor and review the status of improvements. While the participating retailers – which include Walmart and the Hudson Bay Co. – believe the pact is a positive step toward changes in Bangladesh, labor groups quickly criticized the agreement as more lip-service than aggressive action.

"Worker representatives are not part of the agreement and have no role whatsoever in its governance," the groups said in a statement. "Given the grave risks facing millions of workers in Bangladesh, there can be no credible or effective program without a central leadership role for worker representatives."

Labor groups feel the North American pact is far weaker than the one signed recently by many European manufacturers. The global deal – signed by 70 companies – makes retailers financially liable for all training, inspections and upgrades. Under the pact, factories found to be unsafe will be immediately closed and workers will be paid while repairs are being made.