If you can't join them...beat them?
That seems to be Wal-Mart and Gap's ethos when it comes to safety reform in Bangladesh. The two retailers declined to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, which 40 other retailers have already joined, last week--and today, they announced they'll be pursuing their own, independent safety reform plan, WWD is reporting.
The two retailers are working together to develop a new fire and safety action plan over the next 30 days, which they hope other retailers will sign onto. They met with a coalition of companies yesterday and will be in Washington today to discuss the best way of addressing the safety issues in Bangladesh.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and former Sen. Olympic Snowe were asked to serve as "independent facilitators" to the discussions.
"Retailers approached us and asked us to facilitate an independent forum to discuss how to create an effective, unified safety plan in response to the recent tragedies in Bangladesh," Mitchell said in the draft release. "The purpose of these meetings will be for the Alliance to agree upon and establish a framework to effectively address the systemic safety issues and improve working conditions within the Bangladeshi garment industry."
That framework probably won't be of a legally-binding nature, since that's what Gap objected to in the Bangladesh safety accord. While Gap and Wal-Mart are no doubt trying to quell consumer backlash, it will likely backfire if this new plan doesn't place enough legal responsibility on retailers' shoulders.
"There is a serious gap in Gap’s credibility if it says that it only wants to sign the agreement if it is not legally binding,” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director of corporate watchdog SumOfUs.org, said.
The new initiative also means there are now three safety reform plans in the works. The Bangladesh Safety Accord, announced first, has the most number of retailers involved with 40 signatures--though they are almost exclusively European companies. Earlier this month, the newly-created North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group unveiled its own initiative, which is not legally-binding. And now these two initiatives have Gap and Wal-Mart's plan to contend with.
While it's not necessarily a bad thing to have different plans to address different retailers' needs, we can't help but think they'd accomplish more together. Then they could be using this time to actually effect change in Bangladesh--instead of coming up with competing plans with one another.