Asda owner Walmart and 16 other US and Canadian retailers have today signed an accord agreeing to a factory auditing scheme aimed at improving safety in their Bangladeshi factories over five years, while rebuffing a legally binding plan put forward by unions and 70 European retailers on Monday.
The move comes almost three months after the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building that killed 1,127 Bangladeshi garment workers and injured 2,500, provoking international criticism of factory safety standards in Bangladesh.
Walmart and the North American retailers’ scheme – the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety – claims it will be “transparent, results-oriented, measurable and verifiable with the intent of improving safety in Bangladeshi ready-made garment factories”.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – the plan put forward by European retailers and unions and signed by retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s – differs most pertinently in that it is legally binding and the financial responsibility to improve conditions falls on the retailer rather than the supplier. By contrast, the North American plan is not legally binding and makes provision for $100m of loans to factory owners for structural improvements as well as $42m to support safety programmes.
The Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labour Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and United Students Against Sweatshops called the 17-member scheme ineffective in a statement on the agreement.
“Walmart and Gap’s approach is nothing new. It is the same self-regulatory approach brands and retailers have been using in Bangladesh for years”
Clean Clothes Campaign
“Walmart and Gap’s approach is nothing new. It is the same self-regulatory approach brands and retailers have been using in Bangladesh for years, where thousands of workers have been killed. It has no worker representative signatories, which means there is no one involved with an interest in making sure it is enforced,” said the Clean Clothes Campaign in a statement.
In a joint statement the CEOs of the alliance members said: “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.”
“There are two strong plans created to improve working conditions in factories – the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative that we are announcing today, and the plan created by stakeholders in the EU. The next step is for all of us to work together, in collaboration with government, factory owners, and NGOs to change increase safety and improve the quality of life of the women and men in our supply chains whom we depend on to make our products,” said Walmart’s global chief compliance officer Jay Jorgensen.
“Our progress against these plans is essential, and we look forward to making progress together.”