A Bangladeshi woman looks at a wall filled with portraits of missing persons near the site of a garments factory that collapsed in Savar near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, May 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)
Following a series of tragedies in Bangladesh garment plants that claimed the lives of more than 1,100 in Dhaka and 112 in Tazreen, Western retailers have come under pressure to improve working conditions in their factories. In May, more than seventy companies signed on to a legally binding plan, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It has been largely welcomed by labor rights NGOs for ensuring international inspectors into facilities, greater contractor transparency and for a requirement that retailers fund necessary safety upgrades at garment factories.
But Walmart, Target, J.C. Penney, Gap, Sears and the largest federation of US-based retailers balked, claiming the recent accord would increase their liability. On Wednesday at 10 am, the dissenting retailers are poised to unveil a rival plan, one already panned by critics as a smokescreen designed to help them skirt responsibility for fixing their factory “deathtraps.”
To release their rival accord, called the Global Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the US retailers turned to George Mitchell (D-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), along with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a group affiliated with both former senators. The decision to release the plan through an independent, bipartisan think tank may have been made to boost the plan’s credibility. In a letter to inform European counterparts that they would not be meeting to discuss safety plans, Mitchell and Snowe presented their involvement in the rival agreement as neutral brokers. “Under the auspices of the Bipartisan Policy Center, we are independently facilitating a robust and principled dialogue among leading garment retailers and brands as they work to achieve consensus on a single, unified safety plan designed to improve worker conditions in Bangladesh garment factories,” the senators wrote in their June 25 message to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.