Biggest Retailers Are No-Shows At Talks On Bangladesh

A group of retailers and clothing brands including Loblaw, Primark, Bonmarche and El Corte Ingles are meeting in Geneva to discuss compensation for victims of fatal disasters at two apparel factories in Bangladesh, Reuters reported on Thursday (Sept. 12). But the world's largest retailers—Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Carrefour, Tesco (NASDAQ:TESO) and Metro—were noticeable by their absence.

The meeting is aimed at setting up funds to compensate the victims of both the Rana Plaza collapse in April, which killed 1,129 people, and the Tazreen factory fire in November 2012, which killed 112 workers. The talks are being coordinated by European labor organization IndustriALL, which also coordinated the largely European retailers' group the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Carrefour, Tesco and Metro have signed the Accord; Walmart has not.

But the three biggest European retailers weren't expected to be at the meeting. Other no-shows included Inditex, Benneton and Mango, all of which have signed onto the European Accord. The non-attendees cited a lack of clarity around objectives and a lack of involvement by some key stakeholders, according to Reuters.

A Walmart spokesman told Reuters that the chain was focused on improving safety in Bangladesh factories, but didn't comment directly on compensation for victims. Both factory owners and the Bangladesh government have promised that compensation, but little has actually materialized.

The Geneva meeting's small attendance—and the reasons given by no-shows—highlights again how difficult the task is for retailers and apparel makers who carry products from the Banglasdesh factories, no matter how well-meaning and no matter how much money they throw at the problem. If this were just a working group, drilling down into specific issues, a small group would actually be better than a big one. But when three of the four largest retailers have joined a related group and don't turn up for the meetings, both the effort's credibility and clout begin to evaporate.

For more:

- See this Reuters story

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