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US retailers to go for new factory safety plan

world Updated: May 31, 2013 23:41 IST
New York Times

Feeling pressure from consumer and labour groups for not doing more to ensure factory safety in Bangladesh, Walmart, Gap and numerous other retailers along with the nation’s main retail federations are seeking to forge a new plan to promote safety in that country’s apparel industry.

This effort, to be spearheaded by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit group based in Washington, was announced on Thursday, 2 1/2 weeks after dozens of retailers and apparel companies, almost all of them European, announced a far-reaching plan aimed at ensuring factory safety in Bangladesh.

As part of the new effort, the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel and Footwear Association as well as Gap, JCPenney, Sears, Target, Walmart and other retailers, will seek to “develop and implement a new program to improve fire and safety regulations in the garment factories of Bangladesh,” according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

This effort will be led by two prominent members of that group, former Sens. George J Mitchell, a Democrat, and Olympia J Snowe, a Republican, both from Maine.

But some labour advocates called the effort divisive and a sham. After a factory building collapsed in Bangladesh on April 24, killing at least 1,127 workers, Western retailers faced more pressure than ever to take action to ensure factory safety in that country, the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China.

In response, H&M, Carrefour, Marks & Spencer and more than two dozen other European companies backed a binding plan in which they agreed to rigorous independent inspections of the factories they use in Bangladesh and to help finance improvements for fire and building safety.

Only a few US retailers signed on, however. On Thursday, Sean John, the fashion company run by Sean Combs, announced that it would become the third US company to join, following PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Abercrombie & Fitch Loblaw, a Canadian retailer that produces the Joe Fresh clothing line, has also joined that plan.

With about 40 companies signed on to that plan, Gap, the Children’s Place and several other US retailers have faced protests and a flood of Facebook posts, urging them to join.

Bill Chandler, a Gap spokesman, welcomed the new policy center effort. “We see the American alliance as a powerful path forward,” he said.

Jessica Deede, a Target spokeswoman, said, “We have been engaged with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s initiative as a potential solution.”

New York Times