Some time after their European competitors 17 American retailers have made a pact to resolve the unsafe working conditions in the Bengal textile industry, but their plans are met with a lot of criticism.
Ever since1.100 textile workers lost their lives in April, when the Rana Plaza building collapsed, security has been at the top of the agenda. At least, in Europe it has, where almost all retailers signed an agreement for cleaner clothes and safer working conditions. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh has been signed by 72 big brands and retailers from 15 countries.
Retailers in the United States didn’t seem that interested, until seventeen retailers (including GAP, Walmart, JC Penney and Target) decided to create the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. With that initiative they want to amass 42 million euro to make Bengal textile workshops safer, to guide local managers and to inspect the workshops on a yearly basis.
The initiave of the American retailers is getting some criticism though, because it seems to fall way short of the European efforts. First of all there is the amount of money: the Americans promise 42 million dollar across five years, while the Europeans are promising 60 million dollar for that same period.
Secondly there are some doubts about the impartialness of the inspectors: the European plan will ensure audits done by independent third parties, while the Americans appoint their own inspectors and they only have a third party check if the workshops have made the proposed improvements.
The Americans are also not working together with local unions. “The Alliance has a lot of the features of private regulatory regimes that research has shown over the last 10 years is not very effective”, says Matthew Amengual of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies labour regulation and enforcement in developing nations. In the European plan that cooperation with the unions is one of the cornerstones.
Critics are mostly disappointed by the fact that “Wal-Mart, Gap and other U.S. retailers have chosen to go their own way with a plan that appears to lack meaningful transparency and accountability” and that “their plan risks diluting the effectiveness of a stronger, global effort to improve worker safety”.