Retailers Launch Partnership to Improve Factory Safety in Bangladesh

Months after the devastating collapse of a high-rise clothing factory outside of Dhaka, U.S. and global retailers including Walmart, Gap and Target, announced a new alliance to improve working conditions in Bangladesh. Jeffrey Brown reports on efforts to establish common safety standards and require factory safety inspections.


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GWEN IFILL: Now to the latest efforts to improve factory conditions in Bangladesh, and questions about just how effective they will be.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was less than three months ago that the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers. The accident near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, was the deadliest ever in the global garment industry.

This month, NewsHour correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro visited the site, where families who loved ones are still grieving.

BILQUIS, family member of victims (through translator): We got the bodies of my older son and daughter-in-law, but they haven't found my younger son.

JEFFREY BROWN: The building collapse came just six months after fire destroyed another building outside Dhaka, killing 112 people. Together, the two disasters put new focus on often dismal conditions at apparel factories in Bangladesh, many of which produce clothing for U.S. and European retailers.

Last week in Washington, representatives of some of those retailers, including Walmart, The Gap, and Target, announced a new partnership to improve working conditions.

JAY JORGENSEN, Walmart: We stand here today because we believe that companies and government have a responsibility to ensure that the tragedies that occurred in Bangladesh are not repeated. And we believe that if we work together we can prevent and fix unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh.

JEFFREY BROWN: The new group known as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety represents 17 U.S. and Canadian retailers. Together, they are responsible for the vast majority of North American apparel imports from Bangladesh.

They say they have raised $42 million for a five-year effort, including creating common safety standards within three months and requiring safety inspections at all Alliance factories within a year.

Target vice president Daniel Duty:

DANIEL DUTY, Target: Alliance members recognize the importance of the garment industry to the Bangladesh economy, its workers and their families.

We also recognize the influential role we can play in unifying to help this industry significantly improve worker safety, which we are determined to do through this alliance.

JEFFREY BROWN: That announcement followed the creation of a separate global effort spearheaded by European retailers the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It also lays out new safety and other guidelines; 72 companies have already signed on, but most major American companies declined to join.

They say it exposes them to unlimited liability, provides too little accountability for how money is spent, and gives unions too much power.