Following the tragic building collapse that killed more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers last April and fires in 2012 that claimed the lives of more than 400 clothing workers, Bangladeshi workers began building a global movement to make sure it will never happen again.
Bangladeshi and international unions, along with retailers and other groups, developed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety that the International Labor Organization is helping to implement. So far 150 global clothing makers and retailers that contract to Bangladeshi factories—including Adidas, H&M and American Eagle Outfitters—have signed on to the accord that sets standards for worker safety and allows inspection of the factories.
But several large labels and retailers haven’t signed on, including VF Corp. that owns high-profile brands such as The North Face, Timberland and JanSport. Global labor rights groups and activists say that VF Corp. has not only opposed the Accord on Building and Fire Safety but has sought to undermine the accord, which would give workers a voice in addressing deadly working conditions.
The company has even teamed up with Walmart to unveil a laughable, corporate-controlled safety scheme to get out of signing the accord. Their scheme would allow companies to control factory inspections, instead of having them conducted by independent organizations, and lacks a legally binding enforcement mechanism to make sure corporations are delivering on their promises of worker safety.
The first round of inspections required by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety have been completed, and The New York Times reports found:
Some lacked adequate fire doors, did not have required sprinkler systems and had dangerously high weight loads on several floors.
At the Dragon Sweater factory that makes sweaters for Walmart among other customers, according to the company’s website, inspectors found extensive fire safety problems, including a locked fire safety door, numerous gates with locks (but not locked for the inspection that the building owner knew was going to occur, according to the Times) and front and back exit stars that discharged inside the building.