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One year after the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,129 workers, Western retailers and apparel brands are divided into two factions, both trying to improve conditions but disagreeing about everything from inspection processes to how to best help garment workers, The New York Times reports.
The Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety has more than 150 members, including the European brands H&M and Mango. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety counts as members 26 American and Canadian companies, including Target, Walmart, and Gap. The predominantly American alliance points out that they have done more inspections at factories than the Europe-led accord, while members of the accord argue that the alliance has lower standards. Alliance members have also said that the accord should pay wages to workers at a factory that was closed for safety reasons in March.
The rivalry is being downplayed by leaders. "This is really not a competition between the alliance and the accord," says Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the alliance's board. "This is about working together to change the lives of workers in Bangladesh."
Both sides do agree that conditions in many of the factories are grim; inspectors have discovered buildings so crowded with people and equipment that the columns have cracks, and fire stairways that lead to indoor work areas, not outside. It's not cheap to fix these problems; a new sprinkler system, for example, costs more than $250,000.
Dara O'Rourke, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert on workplace monitoring, says he hopes that ultimately the Bangladeshi workers end up on top. "There's one good aspect about the competition," he tells The Times. "It's pushing both sides to raise the bar on what they're doing to improve safety."