A plan developed by North American retailers, including Gap and Walmart, in an attempt to improve safety in Bangladeshi garment factories has been labeled a “sham” by workers’ rights groups.
The two retailers were part of an alliance of 17 US and Canadian brands and retailers that on Wednesday launched a five-year agreement as an alternative to a legally binding accord backed by 70 international brands including clothing retailers Marks & Spencer and Primark as well as unions led by IndustriALL and UNI.
“Gap and Walmart’s safety plan is a sham which won’t make factories safe,” said Murray Worthy, a sweatshops campaigner at War on Want.
Both deals have been agreed in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in April in which more 1,000 people were killed when a factory building collapsed. That disaster followed a series of fires at garment factories and highlighted the working conditions in the country’s garment industry.
The North American deal promises to arrange the inspection of all factories used by the signatories within a year and the establishment of a common set of safety standards by October.
The retailers promise to pay up to US$1 million a year each to support mandatory training for factory staff and managers and to support “worker participation committees” in every factory to deal with complaints about working conditions.
However, critics said the US plan could not be “credible or effective” without the involvement of workers in its governance and lacked teeth without legal underpinning. Meanwhile, “worker committees” in factories are thought to undermine workers’ rights to join trade unions and organize freely, they said.