Improvements to garment factory working conditions in Bangladesh seem to be coming after a factory collapse in Dhaka killed about 1,200 people, bringing global attention to the
plight of the people who make clothes for popular Western brands.The country’s government is talking about raising the minimum wage for garment workers, and major companies such as H&M and Inditex (which owns fast-fashion brand Zara) have agreed to a legally binding safety accord that also requires a financial commitment from the retailers that sign on.
But Wal-Mart and Gap, two of the largest U.S. retailers that source merchandise from Bangladesh, won’t sign anything that holds them legally responsible for the safety of workers in the factories that produce merchandise for them.
Gap has said it will sign the safety accord only if it’s amended to alleviate liability from the company. Wal-Mart introduced its own safety plan that mandates independent factory safety audits but isn’t legally binding.
A company representative told The Wall Street Journal that Wal-Mart expects the factories to pay for any necessary safety renovations and that they “expect the cost of safety improvements to be reflected in the cost of goods we buy.”
But safety agreements that don’t carry any legal weight aren’t usually effective, said Bjorn Claeson, senior policy advisor for the International labour Rights Forum.
“What we need brands to do is be accountable for worker safety in Bangladesh,” he told us in an interview last week. “The problem is that brands are not willing to make anything else but voluntary, non-binding commitments to worker rights and health and safety standards. … They are under no obligation to fix the problems, to make the factories safe or to tell workers the dangers they face.”
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