In response to last weekend’s student-led demonstrations at 20-plus Abercrombie & Fitch stores, the company pointed to improved factory conditions.
Organized by the International Labor Rights Forum, United Students Against Sweatshops and Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, Saturday’s National Day of Action was held as part of a Global Week of Action. The objective was to encourage brands sourcing apparel from Bangladesh to sign a legally binding workplace safety program together with two global unions — Industriall and UNI — and eight Bangladeshi unions.
Five years ago, following the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,134 garment workers, Abercrombie & Fitch was among the first to sign the The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. However, Abercrombie & Fitch has not signed the renewal accord, despite urging from USAS. Executives at the company declined to say Monday whether they plan to. A company spokeswoman said via e-mail, “A&F Co. is committed to its clothes being made in safe work environments. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders to thoroughly evaluate the best options for continuing to drive meaningful safety improvements in the factories that produce our clothes. We are proud of the great strides our manufacturing vendors continue to make to ensure workplace safety.”
“Over the last five years, the vendors with whom A&F works in Bangladesh have aggressively addressed initial findings in their facilities across seven locations. Today the fire, electrical and structural audits of its vendors’ facilities in Bangladesh have achieved a progress rate of 95 percent, which is ahead of the Accord’s brands’ average of 84 percent. A&F remains steadfast in its commitment to being part of a long-term solution for continuous safety, and driving ongoing improvements, in line with the commitments the company has made in Bangladesh, and elsewhere throughout its global supply chain,” the statement read.
About a dozen or so protestors turned up at 20-plus Abercrombie & Fitch stores for Saturday’s National Day of Action, according to Angeles Solis. USAS members also got creative with their efforts with some students going inside the various stores and others staying outdoors to lead demonstrations, do flash mobs, street theater and a few supporters went so far to strip down to sports bras and boxers wearing signs that said, “I’d Rather Be Naked Than Wear A&F,” Solis said.
As for USAS’ next move, she said, “That’s a good question. Abercrombie refuses to take accountability for tis. They have essentially sided with the Bangladeshi government and don’t want to sign the accord. USAS will continue advocating for Abercrombie to do the right things and sign the accord as soon as possible.” Solis said. “We’re petitioning, we’re building support with consumers and activists to deliver letter to the local store managers, to continue doing demonstrations especially since Tuesday is the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. It’s important to keep these events at the forefront of our minds because these tragedies could happen again if companies like Abercrombie don’t sign [the renewal accord.]”
Other major companies like H&M have signed on as well as smaller ones like Outerstuff, Solis said. “There are a number of major European brands that have signed. It tends to be the American brands that tend to refuse to take more accountability for the supply chains overseas. If Abercrombie doesn’t sign they can expect further demonstrations.” But Abercrombie & Fitch notes Monday that the original accord agreement runs through the end of May, a fact that the USAS’ Solis only acknowledged after the fact.