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Consumer group expresses disappointment in American retailers’ watered-down Bangladesh safety accord

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July 16, 2013
Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , (202) 835-3323

Washington, DC—Today the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy group expressed its disappointment in a toothless agreement signed by 17 American retailers on July 10. The so-called “ Worker Safety Initiative” purports to improve working conditions in Bangladesh. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse, which took 1,129 Bangladeshi workers’ lives in April, companies around the world have been under pressure to improve factory conditions. In May, nearly 70 of them—almost all European—signed the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement with enforcement power absent in its new, American counterpart. America’s biggest retailers—including Walmart, Gap, Target, and Macy’s—refused to sign the European agreement.

“While the National Consumers League is pleased that American companies have taken action to address the often abysmal working conditions in Bangladesh, this initiative requires close examination,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “NCL and other worker’s rights and labor rights groups believe it lacks the enforcement and mandatory procedures found in the accord signed by European companies.”

Under the American plan, participating companies would contribute money towards factory improvements, but the factory owners are responsible for allocating the money and coordinating those improvements. The American companies were unwilling to sign the European Accord because, under it, they could have been subject to unwanted liability. The American agreement is not legally binding, and companies can opt out of the alliance at any point.

In the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse, NCL launched the “10 cents” campaign asking consumers to take a pledge that they would be willing to invest 10 additional cents per garment to implement factory safety measures. The campaign raised awareness among consumers about the minimal investment required to improve the lives of millions of low-wage workers around the world. One dime more per item could help ensure that all factories meet basic safety standards.

“The American plan is a ‘Get out of jail free’ card for these companies, and it doesn’t hold their feet to the fire,” said Greenberg. “If, as Walmart, Gap, and others contend, the European and American plans are nearly identical, then why did they feel the need to create a separate agreement? As knowledgeable and socially conscious consumers, Americans must make sure these companies follow through on their promise to protect workers throughout their supply chain.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.