Congress Takes a Stance on Bangladesh Safety Reform

Congress is finally taking a stance on Bangladesh. The House passed the first bill to address the country's factory safety issues in the wake of recent tragedies that have collectively claimed the lives of well over 1,000 people.
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Hayley Phelan
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Congress is finally taking a stance on Bangladesh. The House passed the first bill to address the country's factory safety issues in the wake of recent tragedies that have collectively claimed the lives of well over 1,000 people.
Victims from a building collapse in Bangladesh. Photo: Getty

Victims from a building collapse in Bangladesh. Photo: Getty

Congress is finally taking a stance on Bangladesh. The House passed the first bill to address the country's factory safety issues in the wake of recent tragedies that have collectively claimed the lives of well over 1,000 people, WWD is reporting.

The proposed legislation, a comprehensive Department of Defense spending bill, would require that all licensed and branded military apparel be produced in compliance with the Bangladesh Safety Accord, a legally-binding agreement which requires retailers to help finance the fire and safety improvements needed in Bangladesh factories. The bill also requires military stores that license their own apparel to give preference to vendors that are on board with the accord.

While all military uniforms are produced in the U.S., military-branded apparel can be produced anywhere in the world; several garments, branded with U.S. Marines slogans and logos, were found in the rubble of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire, which killed 112 workers.

“Our goal is not to stop or slow the Bangladesh garment industry. I believe that this country is an important U.S. ally,” Representative George Miller said of the bill. “Our goal is to ensure that the purchasing power of our military exchanges will continue to promote American values of fairness, justice and human rights.”

While the bill passed on a vote of 315 to 108, its future is not entirely certain: It faces a veto threat from the White House, which cited opposition to certain provisions in the legislation, and has some conflicts with a Senate spending bill. The bill will likely only go forward if the Senate supports the Bangladesh amendment, and if the White House's concerns are addressed.

Congress's actions might also serve to inspire other American retailers to join the IndustriALL Global Union-led Bangladesh Safety Accord. So far, only a handful of American companies, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger parent company PVH, have joined the accord. Wal-Mart and Gap have been consistently criticized by labor activists and consumers for pursuing their own safety reform in lieu of signing onto the agreement.

According to WWD, Wal-Mart's president and CEO Mike Duke recently said at The Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit that the retailer was implementing a zero-tolerance policy, when it comes to its suppliers' substandard factories, and that it is "trying to redouble the efforts on the areas of auditing, inspecting and training."