Walmart, Gap, JCPenney, Sears And Target Form Their Own Bangladesh Group

After Walmart  (NYSE:WMT) and Gap (NYSE:GPS) rejected an earlier plan to improve factory safety in Bangladesh, the two—along with JCPenney's (NYSE:JCP), Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) and Target (NYSE:TGT)—have agreed to push their own plan. The deal was mediated by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and co-chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and BPC co-founder George J. Mitchell and former U.S. Sen. and BPC Senior Fellow Olympia Snowe.

Several retail groups—including the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), National Retail Federation (NRF), Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and the Retail Council of Canada (RCC)—also joined the agreement.

Philip J. Jennings, general secretary of Uni Global Union, a worldwide federation of 20 million retail and service workers that helped develop the initial Bangladesh factory safety plan, criticized the new effort. "It's a sham," he told The New York Times. "There is no valid reason why they can't join the initiative we have launched. It has been well received." He added: "Now they seem to want to paddle their own canoe on their own terms."

Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group, told The Times that the new effort would "contain no real obligation on the part of brands and retailers to pay for the building renovations necessary to convert deathtraps in Bangladesh into safe factories."

The reason cited by several chains for not joining the initial group was the lack of legal protections for retailers.

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 American retailers signed on, however. On Thursday (May 30), Sean John, the fashion company run by Sean Combs, announced that it would become the third United States 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 American retailers have faced protests and a flood of Facebook posts urging them to join, The Times reported.

For more:

- See this New York Times story
- See this BPC statement

Related stories:

H&M, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger Sign On To Bangladesh Safety Pact
Big U.S. Chains Reject Bangladesh Accord, Say They'll Do It Themselves
Abercrombie & Fitch Signs Bangladesh Safety Accord; NRF Slams It