My last post talked about how it's a bad idea to boycott or force companies out of Bangladesh, at a time when their money is most needed. However, this doesn't mean that we can't apply a little consumer power in the right places to make sure our favourite brands are doing right by their responsibilities. Knowledge is strength, and it's good to know who's upfront, and who's backtracking.
Many UK-familiar High Street names like Primark and Tesco have already signed the Bangladesh Fire Safety Agreement, a comprehensive workplace safety measure which, if properly implemented, could change the face of fashion manufacturing in the Far East and Asia.
In the States, it's a different matter. Only two major retailers, Abercrombie & Fitch (which shows the other side of the douchebaggery I highlighted last week) and PvH, home of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have signed the accord. There are a lot of big name holdouts that could still torpedo the BFSA before it gets out of the dock.
So who are the companies that are trying to wriggle out of signing? The biggest names on the list (published this week by Ecouterre) are Gap and Walmart, who run the Asda brand in the UK. Gap, in particular, are striking a low blow by claiming that they're happy to sign with just one minor change to the agreement. That change being the removal of the clause making it legally binding. Which, let's be honest, removes the point of the whole thing.
It's interesting to note some obscure names on the list with some heavy High Street punch. VF Corp, for example, probably doesn't mean much to you. But they own high-profile outdoor brands like Timberland and The North Face. And they're still using factories that have the potential to collapse in the same way that the Rana Plaza did. Inspectors from Walmart and Inditex (owners of Zara) have found cracks in the walls of a factory near Dhaka, which caused it to fail safety audits. VF Corp see no problems with continuing to use this factory, saying only in a statement that it was" in daily contact with the facility and VF's leadership is closely monitoring the status in this facility and others in our Bangladesh supply chain."
It's important to keep track of what the big High Street and retail park brands are doing out in places like Bangladesh. They're counting on their Western customer base forgetting about the Rana Plaza, and about the promises of help and support. Let's show brands like Gap and faceless conglomerates like VF Corp that we can't forget, and that change in the death-trap factories that they run across Asia and the Far East is long over-due.