Retailers want alternative plan for Bangladesh

Rights groups are crying foul about a new plan by American and Canadian retailers, including Walmart and Gap, to improve conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers in the wake of a deadly building collapse in May.

The plan is an alternative to a legally binding accord supported by 70 international brands, including Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch, Primark and Marks & Spencer, requiring companies to ensure money is available to pay for safety improvements and renovations. The alternative North American proposal promises to arrange for factory inspections, create safety protocols, provide safety training to staff, and to set up “worker participation committees” to handle complaints about conditions. Additionally, the plan would provide low-interest loans to make improvements on factories and provide compensation for employees unable to work during upgrades.

Critics of the plan say it lacks a solid legal foundation and will not be effective without the input of employees when put into practice. Additionally, it is suggested the “workers committees” would fail to provide labour with a central leadership role whilst making organizing and joining unions difficult. The new proposal, however, limits the liability and financial burden placed upon participants, whereas the accord guarantees funds for updating factories and improving safety.

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In the Guardian, Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of the global union UNI, stated: "Walmart are bringing their discount practices to factory safety. This is not a price war; this is about people’s lives. Walmart has dragged Gap and a number of other brands down the wrong track. We now urge the Walmart/Gap initiative to think again and raise its standards to those of the accord."

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka on May 13, 2013 killed 1,127 people.

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