US Retailers Squabble over European Contract to Clean Up Poor Conditions

Fatal FashionAbout 30 European companies signed an agreement to clean up and pay to change conditions that led to the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. (Death toll now 1,127 workers) Reuters reported that U.S. and Euro retailers are split over the best approach to safety reforms. As retailers argue on the best way to ‘cost it out,’ their lack of action in the past has cost many human lives.

According to Reuter’s Jessica Wohl, few U.S. companies joined in signing the Euro-led ‘IndustriALL’ accord, with a retail trade group saying it would “constrain legal rights.”

Gap, Inc. representatives won’t sign it unless there are changes to the ways that conflicts get resolved, while Walmart believes its own approach would be more effective, promising to ‘step up’ inspections of 279 factories supplying it. Seems Walmart has already had several years, and over 220 fires and multiple deaths of garment workers to ‘step up’ their inspections.

According to Wohl, the D.C.-based National Retail Federation criticizes the accord, saying it “veers away from commonsense solutions and seeks to advance a narrow agenda driven by special interests.” The group’s president said it “exposes American companies to a legally questionable binding arbitration provision, a process that serves only the unions, not the workers they represent…adding that it seeks major funding without providing accountability for how funds are spent.” Hmmmm….how about if funds are spent to help the over 1,100 victims’ families?

IndustriALL said the pact wouldn’t be amended to address U.S. concerns. “The clear message is that the legally binding nature of the accord is what makes it a historic game changer and watering that down is out of the question.”

While Walmart plans to inspect factories over the next six months, and has closed locations with safety problems, companies that rely on Bangladesh to provide inexpensive apparel do not yet agree on the best way to ensure safe working conditions.

Thanks to many concerned bloggers, ethical fashion designers, retailers and consumers, the plight of these garment workers has reached an international level of concern now. Jo’el Worldwear sincerely hopes that humanity, wisdom and integrity will prevail with U.S. retailers who just want to ‘argue it out!’

We’ll continue to pin our focus on these workers, and will blog and blog in honor of them. You can help us simply by keeping a watchful eye on the news and advocating for improvements. While you might not feel compelled to join an ethical fashion forum, all we ask is that you make a “conscience” effort to discern whether the products you are purchasing and consuming are ethically produced and paid for. At Jo’el Worldwear, we struggle with these same decisions ourselves as an ethical retailer.  It’s not easy to even know if what you’ve purchased has been produced in ethical conditions and with fair-trade practices.

As we bring our new line to market in June, we’ll share good news about our summer collection colors, and about our designer who created the fashions. Plus, we can’t wait to tell you why the color “orange” is so hot!!!

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