WASHINGTON — The North American retail and brand alliance led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc. outlined five key goals at a meeting here Friday as it works to expedite its own fire and building safety plan in Bangladesh, in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that has claimed the lives of 1,129 garment workers.
The meeting with leading retailers, brands and industry associations was facilitated by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Former Senate Majority Leader and BPC co-founder George J. Mitchell and former Sen. Olympia Snowe led the discussions with a broad range of stakeholders, including experts from the U.S. and Bangladesh governments, as well as worker rights organizations and the safety industry.
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In recent days, the alliance has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers and labor groups for declining to sign an existing, legally binding accord that 43 mostly European retailers and brands have signed. That accord is led by IndustriALL Global Union and other labor groups and includes three U.S. firms — PVH Corp. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Sean John.
But the North American companies have cited concerns over legal liabilities with the legally, binding accord and are instead formulating their own safety plan, which they hope to unveil next month.
The five areas on which the alliance is focusing are: developing a plan for worker training and empowerment; creating fire and building safety assessment standards; sharing factory inspections and training information; establishing governance for the alliance, and funding.
The new alliance includes retailers and brands, as well as representatives from industry associations, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, the Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Apparel Federation. Gap and Wal-Mart are both members of RILA and NRF. RILA members include major retailers such as J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Target Corp. and Sears Holdings Corp., while Macy’s Inc., Saks Inc. and Neiman Marcus Inc. are NRF members.
“We had a very productive day of discussions,” said BPC president Jason Grumet. “The alliance was particularly gratified to be joined by Bangladesh Ambassador to the U.S. Akramul Qader, who informed the group of current progress on the ground and the serious challenges that remain. BPC welcomes continued involvement in this important effort to improve worker safety in Bangladesh.”
BPC said the alliance will continue to hold discussions in the coming weeks, “designed to achieve effective and long-lasting change for the industry and its workers.”