Friday, May 03, 2013

Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Is There Blood on Your Shirt?



The cheap clothes that Americans buy from retailers every day actually come at a very high price. That cost came into stark relief last week when Rana Plaza, a building housing several garment factories, collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, killing at least 386 workers and injuring many more. With bodies still being pulled from the wreckage, the accident is already “one of the worst industrial accidents in world history,” according to Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.

The workers who died were producing clothing for American and European consumers and earning only $38 a month, according to the Associated Press. Now the clothing brands and retailers that profited from the cheap labor at Rana Plaza are struggling to wash the blood from their hands, while other brands rethink their role in Bangladesh as a whole. Earlier this week, officials from Walmart, Gap, and about two dozen other retailers and apparel companies met in Germany to begin developing a plan to increase safety across Bangladesh’s garment factories, according to The New York Times. Today Disney, whose goods have been tied to accidents in Bangladesh in the past, announced that it will halt all production of branded merchandise in the country by March 31, 2014, according to the Times.

As the death toll mounts in Bangladesh factory accidents, western companies are feeling more pressure to change their practices. Here’s a list, drawn from both TIME reporting and other confirmed media reports, of companies that have past or present ties to devastating accidents at Bangladesh facilities:

The world’s largest retail giant was listed as a buyer on the website of Ether Tex, one of the garment factories destroyed in the accident. Walmart says they had no authorized production in the facility and will take “appropriate action” if they discover unauthorized production was happening in the factory. In a Reuters report, Ether Tex’s chairman initially said it had been doing sub-contracting work to supply Walmart at the time of the accident, but later said the work had been completed before the incident. In November, a fire at another Bangladesh factory that killed more than 100 was found to be producing products for Walmart stores, among other retailers.

Joe Fresh
The Canadian apparel brand, owned by Loblaw Companies Limited, was being manufactured at the Rana Plaza factory. Loblaw has vowed to provide compensation for families of victims who were making Joe Fresh apparel. The company also plans to send Loblaw representatives to the accident site to support the rescue and aid effort. Loblaw is now pushing for all Canadian retailers to adopt more stringent safety standards through the Retail Council of Canada.

Primark
Primark, a British retailer, has also directly accepted responsibility for receiving goods from the hazardous factory. The company is planning to provide monetary aid for victims’ families. “We are fully aware of our responsibility,” Primark said in a statement. “We urge these other retailers to come forward and offer assistance.”

JCPenney
A JCPenney official said that some of the Joe Fresh products being produced at Rana Plaza would have ended up in JCPenney stores, though the factories had never previously created private label JCPenney merchandise. The company says it has members of its social responsibility team currently on the ground in Bangladesh gathering information from local authorities.

Benetton
Though the Italian fashion brand emphasized that none of its products were recently made in the Rana Plaza factories, one Benetton supplier had subcontracted work to the facility in the past. The manufacturing facility was removed from Benetton’s supply chain before the accident.

Children’s Place
One manufacturer of clothing for the children’s retail chain was located at Rana Plaza, though none of the company’s products were being manufactured there when the building collapsed. A Children’s Place spokesman said the company is fully aware of its responsibilities and will provide “financial and other aid” to people affected by the accident.

Dress Barn
This women’s fashion retailer said that it had not purchased any clothing from the Rana Plaza facility since 2010, according to The Washington Post.

Cato Fashions
Cato Fashions, a women’s fashion brand said that New Wave Bottoms, one of the manufacturers at Rana Plaza, was one of its suppliers, according to the Associated Press. However, New Wave was not producing clothing for Cato at the time of the accident.

The Walt Disney Company
Disney was not producing goods at Rana Plaza, but labor groups in Bangladesh claim to have found Disney apparel in the ruins of the factory destroyed by a fire in the nation’s capital in November. Today Disney announced that it will no longer produce licensed merchandise in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Belarus, Ecuador and Venezuela, according to the New York Times.

First appeared in TIME.com, May 02, 2013

Victor Luckerson @VLuck is a reporter-producer for Time.com covering business and money