Wednesday 15 May 2013

How Gap Are Trying To Demolish The BFSA

If you've wondered how many people have to die before retailers sign up to a comprehensive safety agreement, you have your answer. Over a thousand corpses have been pulled out of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and the rescue effort has finally been called off. 

Out of tragedy, there is a sign of hope. Big high street names like Primark, H&M, Marks and Spencer and Tesco have all signed the landmark Bangladesh Fire and Safety Agreement, a document specifically designed to protect workers from the kind of dangerous working conditions that led to last month's tragic events. This is an enormous step forward, signalling the possible start of a new era of co-operation between unions, factory owners and their big Western clients. 

However, it isn't all good news. Some retailers have refused to sign the deal, angling for better terms and stronger negociating positions should things go wrong. Notable holdouts include American retail giant Walmart (never, it has to be said, the friendliest of companies when it comes to worker/management relations) and Gap. 

Gap were not linked to the companies in the Rana Plaza building, but they do have a significant presence in the country's fashion industry, putting work through nearly 80 factories. They have offered amendments to the agreement, citing concerns over the way disputes are settled in court. That amendment would pull most of the teeth out of the BFSA, rendering it a voluntary agreement with little government oversight. 

Needless to say, this announcement has been met with outrage. War On Want spokesman Murray Worthy called Gap's position a "complete smokescreen", and added:

"It's a straightforward statement that they don't care at all about the safety of their workers and aren't interested in taking action to put that right."

Green MP Caroline Lucas told The Independent that it was:

"unacceptable some of the biggest high street brands appear so reluctant to sign up to reforms concerning the safety of Bangladeshi workers".

Meanwile, Labour MP John McDonnell was the first to call for boycotts of the chain, saying: 

“Gap’s British customers have a duty now to force action by this company.”

Gap have, in this writer's opinion, fatally misjudged the mood surrounding the Rana Plaza collapse. They're trying the same old legal tactics to wriggle away from their responsibilities in a market in which they are a major player. If they tried something like this in Europe or the States, they would be quite rightfully pulled over the coals, and there's no reason not to do the same thing over their shameful actions in Bangladesh. Expect loud boycotts and a rapid reversal of position in the next week or so. 

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