Support Marketplace

Will U.S. clothing firms change on Bangladesh?

Bangladeshi relatives hold photos of the missing and dead workers three days after an eight-storey building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka on April 27, 2013. Police arrested two textile bosses over a Bangladeshi factory disaster as the death toll climbed to 332 and distraught relatives lashed out at rescuers trying to detect signs of life.

This morning, Walmart, Target, Gap, and other U.S. apparel companies are set to announce their plan to protect Bangladeshi garment workers. They declined to join a global pact with scores of European retailers like H&M and Zara, after April's deadly factory collapse.

U.S. retailers were criticized for sidestepping the legally binding pact. They said they were concerned about cost and liability.

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, says the pact was a sea change.

“It has a binding commitment for companies that sign on. Which means that they can’t just walk away when they decide that it’s too challenging,” she says.

Under the global agreement, disputes can be settled through binding arbitration. The details of the U.S. plan haven’t been released. But reports say it centers on a $50 million fund to improve factory safety.

UC Berkeley associate professor Dara O’Rourke says that’s not much, considering Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry. He says Europe set the bar high.

“Really the only question is, will the U.S. response prove that they can solve problems in Bangladesh better, faster, more efficiently,” he says.

Former senators George J. Mitchell (D-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) helped facilitate the new agreement. They’ll help announce the details this morning.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...