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26-04-2013
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Major Retailers Rejected Bangladesh Factory Safety Plan



DHAKA, Bangladesh — As Bangladesh reels from the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide factory inspections is bringing renewed scrutiny to an industry that has profited from a country notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence level wages.
After a factory fire killed 112 garment workers in November, clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labor groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.
In the meantime, the number of deaths and injuries has mounted. In the five months since last year's deadly blaze at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., there were 40 other fires in Bangladeshi factories, killing nine workers and injuring more than 660, according to a labor organization tied to the AFL-CIO umbrella group of American unions.
Wednesday's collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 300 people is the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh's fast-growing and politically powerful garment industry. For those working to overhaul conditions for workers who are paid as little as $38 a month, it is a grim reminder that corporate social responsibility programs are failing to deliver on lofty promises.
More than 48 hours after the eight-story building collapsed, some garment workers were still trapped alive Friday, pinned beneath tons of mangled metal and concrete. Rescue crews struggled to save them, knowing they probably had just a few hours left to live, as desperate relatives clashed with police.
"Improvement is not happening," said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, who said a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade. "The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system," Amin said. "But yet these things keep happening."
What role retailers should play in making working conditions safer at the factories that manufacture their apparel has become a central issue for the $1-trillion global clothing industry.
The clothing brands say they are working to improve safety, but the size of the garment industry – some 4,000 factories in Bangladesh alone _means such efforts skim the surface. That opaqueness is further muddied by subcontracting. Retailers can be unwittingly involved with problematic factories when their main suppliers farm out work to others to ensure orders are filled on time.
"We remain committed to promoting stronger safety measures in factories and that work continues," Wal-Mart said in a statement after the Rana Plaza collapse. The world's largest retailer says there was no authorized Wal-Mart production in the building. One of the Rana Plaza factories, Ether Tex, listed Wal-Mart as a customer on its website.
Labor groups argue the best way to clean up Bangladesh's garment factories already is outlined in a nine-page safety proposal drawn up by Bangladeshi and international unions.
The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.
The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world's largest clothing brands and retailers – including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M – but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.
At the time, Wal-Mart's representative told the meeting it was "not financially feasible ... to make such investments," according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
After last year's Tazreen blaze, Bangladeshi union president Amin said he and international labor activists renewed a push for the independent inspectorate plan, but none of the factories or big brands would agree.
This week, none of the large clothing brands or retailers would comment about the proposal.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner did not directly answer questions about the unions' safety plans in replies to questions emailed by The Associated Press. H&M responded to questions with emailed links to corporate social responsibility websites.
In December, however, a spokesperson for the Gap – which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains – said the company turned down the proposal because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades.
H&M also did not sign on to the proposal because it believes factories and local government in Bangladesh should be taking on the responsibility, Pierre B�rjesson, manager of sustainability and social issues, told AP in December.
H&M, which places the most apparel orders in Bangladesh and works with more than 200 factories there, is one of about 20 retailers and brands that have banded together to develop training films for garment manufacturers.
Wal-Mart last year began requiring regular audits of factories, fire drills and mandated fire safety training for all levels of factory management. It also announced in January it would immediately cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first as before.
And the Gap has hired its own chief fire inspector to oversee factories that produce its clothing in Bangladesh.
But many insist such measures are not enough to overhaul an industry that employs 3 million workers.
"No matter how much training you have, you can't walk through flames or escape a collapsed building," said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, which lobbies for garment workers' rights.
Private audits also have their failings, she said. Because audits are confidential, even if one company pulls its business from a supplier over safety issues, it won't tell its competitors, who will continue to place orders – allowing the unsafe factory to stay open.
The Tazreen factory that burned last year had passed inspections, and two of the factories in the Rana Plaza building had passed the standards of a major European group that does factory inspections in developing countries. The Business Social Compliance Initiative, which represents hundreds of companies, said the factories of Phantom Apparels and New Wave Style had been audited against its code of conduct which it said focuses on labor issues not building standards.
"The audits and inspections are too much focused on checklists," said Saif Khan, who worked for Phillips Van Heusen, the owner of brands Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, in Bangladesh until 2011 as a factory compliance supervisor.
"They touch on broader areas but do not consider the realities on the ground," he said.
___
Johnson reported from Mumbai, India. AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio in New York and AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.



huffingtonpost

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26-04-2013
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^ This makes me so angry, I want to boycott someone ... but I already boycott Walmart & haven't bought anything in years from the other retailers named. But no more Banana Republic or Gap for me ...

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27-04-2013
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Absolutely heart breaking.

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28-04-2013
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Its disgusting that these companies aren't held to be more accountable for these conditions and events. While they may not own the company thats making the clothes they are employing them to do so, therefore they ought to care about the workers well-being. They are not doing enough to ensure that something like a building collapse or whatnot doesn't happen. Instead they can just say they "weren't aware of unsafe practices" and not punished for it, which is bs. They are in fact part of the problem. Things like this enrage me so much, really think I'll be avoiding H&M and the Gap even more so (already avoid Walmart) because I do not willingly want to support such practices.

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29-04-2013
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A shirt made in Bangladesh for the company "United Colors of Benetton" lays in the rubble of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, April 27, 2013. Police in Bangladesh arrested two owners of a garment factory in a shoddily-constructed building that collapsed this week, killing at least 324 people, as protests spread to a second city Saturday with hundreds of people throwing stones and setting fire to vehicles. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Benetton Denies Ties To Deadly Bangladesh Factory, But Its Shirts Were Found In The Rubble

by Zachary M. Seward /huffingtonpost.com

Benetton, the Italian fashion line known for provocative marketing campaigns advocating progressive causes, has denied any ties to the garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, that collapsed last week, killing at least 377 people. “None of the companies involved are suppliers to Benetton Group or any of its brands,” the company said on April 24.
But evidence is mounting that Benetton clothing was indeed being manufactured at the factory, known as Rana Plaza. Photos taken at the scene by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse clearly show shirts with “United Colors of Benetton” labels. That’s the AP photo above, and here is AFP’s documentary evidence:

A shirt with a Benetton label lies in the rubble three days after a Bangladeshi garment eight-story building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 27, 2013. Police arrested two textile bosses over a Bangladeshi factory disaster as the death toll climbed to 332 and distraught relatives lashed out at rescuers trying to detect signs of life. (Munir uz Zaman / AFP / Getty Images)
Benetton didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comment. Its Twitter account has been silent since tweeting the company’s brief statement of denial four days ago. (Update, April 29, 2013: In a new statement after the photographs emerged and this story was published, Benetton said, “A one-time order was completed and shipped out of one of the manufacturers involved several weeks prior to the accident. Since then, this subcontractor has been removed from our supplier list.”)

New Wave Bottoms, one of the manufacturers based at Rana Plaza, lists Benetton as a client. Labor rights activists digging through the debris have also said they found documents linking Benetton to the factory.
Benetton is hardly the only—or even the largest—clothing company with ties to the factory; America’s Wal-Mart, Ireland’s Primark, and Canada’s Joe Fresh all made clothing there. But Benetton’s initial denial and its social activism could make it a bigger target for criticism. The company produces most of its clothing in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-largest garment exporter, after China.
Workers in garment factories like the one that collapsed last week make a minimum wage of 3,000 taka ($38) a month. Working conditions are notoriously brutal and unsafe. The day before Rana Plaza collapsed, large cracks appeared in the side of the building, prompting a bank and other retail stores on the first floor to close. But the garment factories in the floors above stayed open, and the building fell to pieces the next day. The death toll now stands at 377 but is expected to keep rising.
The building’s owner, Sohel Rana, was arrested on Sunday by Bangladeshi paramilitary forces as he attempted to cross the border into India.

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29-04-2013
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I got home tonight, put my laundry in the dryer ... & discovered I had no truly warm-weather appropriate (dry) loungewear to put on. Right now I'm looking around for something to order ... some of what I have currently is Gap. It briefly crossed my mind to buy more, and I remembered this thread ... that won't be happening.

Most interesting about Benetton trying to distance themselves (unsuccessfully) ...

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29-04-2013
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Its interesting how even a seemingly progressive brand like Benetton can support such unsustainable practices which endanger the lives of workers who make their clothes. It just makes me realize that a company can claim to be all about social causes yet it wont have a shred of truth if they themselves do not have humane working conditions. It leaves me feeling quite ill to think about actually. And my heart breaks for those who have been affected by the building collapse, this is absolutely devastating. But it does not break for the companies that were found to be employing this manufacture, perhaps some would see it as a inappropriate thing to say, but I hope that these companies get pulled through the mud for this. By denying such involvement they are further slandering the lives of those who died in this disaster. And I find their blatant disregard for human life disgusting.

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07-05-2013
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Bangladesh Building Collapse Death Toll Passes 700
Quote:
The death toll from the collapse of an eight-storey factory building near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has passed 700, officials say.

The announcement came after workers pulled dozens more bodies from the rubble. Many people are still missing.

Several people, including the building's owner, have been arrested.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza on 24 April stands as Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster. It sparked outrage among workers in the country.

The previous most deadly structural failure in modern times - excluding the 9/11 terror attacks in New York - was the Sampoong department store in Seoul, South Korea, in 1995, in which 502 people died.

The death toll from Bangladesh now stands at 705. Officials say about 2,500 people were injured in the collapse and that 2,437 people have been rescued.

Rescue officials also say they do not know exactly how many people are still missing as factory owners have not given them precise figures.

Working conditions
It came as hundreds of garment workers who survived the collapse protested by blocking a highway close to the accident site demanding unpaid wages and benefits.

Reports say many of them were working in some of the factories housed in the illegally constructed building.

Local government administrator Yousuf Harun told the Associated Press news agency that they are working with a garment industry body to ensure the workers are paid.

The disaster put the spotlight on conditions in the country's garment sector.

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, and some of the clothes produced in the building were made for Western retailers.

The EU has said it is considering "appropriate action" to encourage an improvement in working conditions in Bangladesh factories.

This includes the use of its trade preference system, which gives Bangladesh duty- and quota-free access to markets in member states.

On Monday the government announced a panel that would inspect garment factories for building flaws
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22431151

This whole situation upsets me greatly and its hard to sit by and just read about it. Was thinking about possibly writing to my state representatives to express my discontent with having no government regulations for businesses who engage in such behavior or something along those lines. Has anyone ever done such a thing before? Or do you think their is a better method of going about such things?

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07-05-2013
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i think the best way is to approach companies like H&M that use over 200 factories in bangledesh and have blocked any attempts at reform. tweet about or contact them on facebook.

H&M currently is the largest buyer from the country, followed by Wal-Mart. (wsj.com. story here.)
As far as I am concerned they are the biggest problem.

i think the biggest impact you can make would be just to create a webpage about the issue!

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07-05-2013
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Those are some good ideas lucy92, I'm still mulling over what I might want to do, but creating a webpage or twitter account is not out of the question. As of now I've tweeted a bit about it under my personal handle but perhaps a proper one completely devoted to the treatment of garment workers and whatnot would be better. And I've sent an email to my favorite professor asking her about what she might suggest too. I still think that contacting my congresswomen might not be a bad idea though (she appears to be invested in the fashion industry/garment workers in the US maybe she'll be invested in the treatment of garment workers elsewhere too?). Perhaps a combination of the two would be best? Anyways, thanks for the suggestions!

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08-05-2013
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It makes me sick to think that I have ever bought something from any of these companies. I will definately be boycotting where I can

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08-05-2013
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I'm going to bookmark this forum so that I can go through it. I find companies that do this absolutely despicible. I think it's awful that groups like PETA demonize the high fashion industry for using fur, but nobody demonizes the high street industry for their literal human enslavement.

Here's something that I saw a few years ago on the garment district in NYC and the people who work in it. It's only six minutes but it's really interesting.

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11-05-2013
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^^Thanks for sharing that video.

Unlike the previous fires in Bangladesh this building collapse garnered much more media attention and criticism which is unfortunate because it was well overdue. It's sad that 700 lives have to be lost. The question is where will we go on from here? Will this story begin to disappear just like the many others before this one with no real change implemented and is change possible at this point or does the system of products produced by the workers, the major retailers who employ 'private' companies overseas and the consumers who purchase these goods needs to be completely eradicated?

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12-05-2013
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^unfortunately, its more than a thousand people now that have died in the factory collapse.

from the nytimes

H&M is refusing to leave Bangladesh.

Wal-Mart and the Swedish retailer H&M, the top two producers of clothing in Bangladesh, have said they have no plans to leave. Other big chains such as The Children's Place, Mango, J.C. Penney, Gap, Benetton and Sears have said the same.
Working conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry long have been known to be grim, a result of government corruption, desperation for jobs, and industry indifference. But the scale of this tragedy has raised alarm among executives and customers.

"Today's economy is global, and it is not a question of if a company like H&M should be present in developing countries," said Anna Eriksson, an H&M spokeswoman. "It is a question of how we do it."

Of the major garment-manufacturing countries, Bangladesh's working conditions pose the highest risk to brands, according to Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm based in Bath, England. But Bangladesh ranks somewhat better than many low-cost countries on other labor issues, such as child labor and forced labor.
According to Maplecroft's Labor Rights and Protection Index, which measures the overall risk of association with violations of labor rights, Bangladesh is the 17th-riskiest country in the world — and less risky than such garment-producing leaders as China, Pakistan, Indonesia and India.
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and Italy. There are 5,000 factories in the country and 3.6 million garment workers. Manufacturers have easy access to cheap raw materials, and the country's political situation has been relatively stable.
And its garment workers command the lowest wages — by far — in the world. The average worker in Bangladesh earns the equivalent of 24 cents an hour, compared with 45 cents in Cambodia, 52 cents in Pakistan, 53 cents in Vietnam and $1.26 in China, according to the Worker Rights Consortium, a worker advocacy group.

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30-05-2013
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American Apparel CEO Dov Charney: H&M Shouldn't Be Making Clothing If It Can't Pay Workers More







American Apparel CEO Dov Charney has been on the warpath since the deadly collapse of a garment factory complex in Bangladesh took the lives of more than 1,100 people in April, and now he has his sights on Swedish retail giant H&M.
The outspoken executive thrashed H&M's business practices in a brutally candid podcast with Vice's Reihan Salam. H&M uses a "fast fashion" business model -- a strategy of reworking the latest styles from the catwalk and getting the clothes into the stores as quickly as possible -- and has clothing made in countries with rock-bottom wages like Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson told the Financial Times that he wished the Bangladeshi government would raise the country's minimum wage and that his company wouldn't mind the added cost.
"I want the salaries to be revised yearly, as in most other countries," Persson said. "So we're definitely willing to pay more, but we have to find a good, sustainable way for the workers and for the country as well."
Charney was incredulous, refusing to believe that a massive multinational corporation like H&M is incapable of raising its own minimum wage to a more reasonable level.
"Can H&M afford $50 a week?" Charney asked on the podcast. "They shouldn't be making clothing. If they can't pay $50 a week, don't make clothes."
The minimum wage in Bangladesh is currently $38 a month, though officials have set up a panel to discuss raising the amount for garment workers.
In an interview with Metro, Persson said that H&M can't raise wages for those workers assigned to its products, because the workers make garments for a variety of different buyers. "It would be complete chaos if we give the 20 workers who sew for us during a certain period higher pay," he told Metro.
American Apparel manufactures its garments in the U.S. Workers at its factory in Los Angeles make an average of $12 an hour, according to the company. That's a few dollars above California's $8 minimum wage, but remains only 94 cents more than the poverty-level wage of $11.06, according to 2011 data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute. The company has also been accused of union-busting and shutting down organizers.
H&M was lauded by industry observers for being one of the earliest to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh following the Rana Plaza disaster. The company's leadership was seen as a "crucial" step forward for worker safety in Bangladesh because H&M is the largest single producer of apparel in the country, according to Scott Nova, head of the Worker Rights Consortium, an industry watchdog. H&M was not connected to the factories within Rana Plaza.
H&M did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite H&M's commitments, Charney tore into the retailer for its unwillingness to pay workers overseas the same wages it pays within its home country, calling for the company to match the Swedish wage in its manufacturing zones abroad. Citing an H&M advertisement that promoted a $4.99 bikini, Charney argued that it's impossible to sell bikinis for that price unless someone is getting squeezed. He said that such a product cannot exist unless the company is "screwing someone."
"H&M is a $22 billion corporation -- they've amassed an enormous amount of wealth. They don't have to have their hands dirty to the extent that they do," said Charney.
H&M is just one of many industry players in Bangladesh. Many American companies, including the world's largest retailer Walmart, have refused to sign the building safety pact. Charney didn't hesitate to shine the spotlight on all the executives involved.
"It's about the business leaders at my competitors. I call upon them to do exactly what they said," said Charney. "If they do it, they're men."
"But," added Charney, "they're mice." huffingtonpost

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