After six major European retailers announced on Monday and Tuesday that they would sign onto a broad safety upgrade agreement in Bangladesh, American companies Walmart and Gap announced that they would not sign on. Gap has been the most outspoken about its opposition, reports the New York Times:
By far, Gap has been the most vocal company opposed to the plan, expressing concerns that overzealous American lawyers could seize on the agreement to sue American companies on behalf of aggrieved factory workers in Bangladesh — perhaps in the event of a factory fire. Gap said it supported much of the plan, but it proposed changes that would greatly limit any legal liability for a company that violated the plan.
Walmart cited “requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms” in the agreement as its reason not to sign on, saying they are “appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.”
The company plans to instead use its own safety plan. It began its own factory inspections of 279 Bangladesh facilities this year after the fire in November that killed 110 and it will release the names and inspection information as well as provide fire safety training for every worker in the factories that produce its goods. The inspection results will be posted on June 1.
Labor groups criticized Walmart’s plan, which is voluntary. The broader plan signed by the other companies is legally binding. Labor groups characterized Walmart’s proposal as merely aspirational.
Meanwhile, documents provided to the New York Times show that Walmart sourced clothing from the collapsed factory that killed 1,127:
The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity has provided The New York Times with photos of several documents not disputed by Wal-Mart that were recovered in the building’s rubble, showing that a Wal-Mart contractor from Canada had produced jeans last year at the Ether Tex factory, which had been situated on the fifth floor of the collapsed Rana Plaza building.
The only American company to sign onto the agreement thus far is PVH, owner of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod. A handful of smaller European companies also signed on Tuesday: Benetton, Marks & Spencer, and El Corte Inglés.