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Fashion retailers disunited over approach to Bangladesh

August 2013

As a group of 17 US retailers, including Wal-Mart and Gap, have agreed a five-year pact to improve conditions at clothing factories in Bangladesh, controversy still rages around the European retailer-led Bangladesh Safety Accord.

According to anti-poverty charity War on Want, Arcadia Group – the British fashion consortium behind brands such as TopShop and Miss Selfridge – have not yet signed up to the Accord, instigated by the Rana Plaza factory disaster earlier this year in which more than 1,100 people died.

The Accord is a comprehensive and legally binding programme for improving factory safety, including full transparent building audits, worker training and mandatory repairs to make factories safe. Over 80 major brands and retailers including Primark, H&M and Tesco, have already signed the agreement.

The Arcadia website contains a statement dating back to May which indicates that the group will sign up to the Accord. It states: “in order to show support for the initiative that this Accord is proposing to undertake, we as a Group will be signing up. This will be done on the condition that we understand the final costs to us, which to date has not been made clear.

As with any other commercial contract we sign, we reserve the right to review our participation if the Accord does not achieve its stated aims within an agreed timescale.”

However, the full list of current signatories is available from IndustriALL and the Arcadia Group is not on it. At the time of writing Ethical Performance was waiting for clarification on the company’s position from the Sir Philip Green-led organisation.

War on Want’s sweatshops campaigner, Murray Worthy, said: “Topshop’s bosses have got no excuse for not signing this agreement. Their failure to act and to work with other UK high street retailers to make these factories safe leaves thousands of workers’ lives at risk.”

The charity also wants the public to press US brands Gap and Walmart to sign the accord, two brands which have recently agreed a separate five-year Bangladesh safety pact with 15 other US retailers. This pack includes loans to help factories improve safety and inspections of all factories within a year.

US firms were against joining the European-led, legally-binding, accord because they feared it could expose them to unlimited liabilities. In a statement, the US firms said: “The safety record of Bangladesh factories is unacceptable and requires our collective effort. We can prevent future tragedies by consolidating and amplifying our individual efforts to bring about real and sustained progress.”

Earlier this year, the US Labor Department gave Bangladesh $2.5m to ensure workers were better protected.

There are more than 4,500 clothing factories in Bangladesh, employing more than 3.5m people, the majority of them women.
The garment industry makes up 80% of the country’s exports. 




Arcadia | Asia | supply chain

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