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Walmart/Gap program undermines progress in Bangladesh

July 11, 2013

On July 11, 2013, Gap, Walmart and 15 other North American retailers and brands (including VF Corporation, Sears, Target, JC Penney, Canadian Tire and the Hudson’s Bay Company) launched an alternative to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (“the Bangladesh Accord”). The scheme, which they are calling the “Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative,” is being supported by the US and Canadian retailer and apparel manufacturer associations as well.
On the same day, five international labour rights NGOs, including MSN, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium and United Students Against Sweatshops released a detailed criticism of the Walmart/Gap scheme.

“Walmart, Gap and the corporations that have chosen to join them are unwilling to commit to a program under which they actually have to keep the promises they make to workers and accept financial responsibility for ensuring that their factories are made safe,” says the statement. “Instead, they offer a program that mimics the Accord rhetorically, but that omits the features that make an agreement meaningful.”

Over 85 companies from 15 countries have now signed the Bangladesh Accord, while 17 companies in two countries (the US and Canada) have joined the Walmart/Gap scheme. The Bangladesh Accord is a legally binding agreement between global and Bangladeshi unions and international brands and retailers with an equal say for the companies and unions in governance. The Accord provides for independent factory inspections, full transparency on the results, clear accountability mechanisms, and financial commitments to make factories safe in Bangladesh. In contrast, the Walmart/Gap scheme is a bargain-basement approach in which the brands/retailers continue to control the factory inspections, make no firm commitment to contribute financially to necessary factory upgrades, share little information on the results of inspections with the public, and exclude unions from any decision-making role.

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