Dear Senators Mitchell and Snowe:
In the last eight years, more than 1,800 garment workers have been killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh. They have died because global apparel brands have demanded clothing to be manufactured at the lowest prices in the world, and because the government and industry have ignored safety standards to keep down costs.
Workers who survive deadly calamities have reported locked or blocked exits and the lack of legally required fire escapes. They have been told by managers to return to their workstations when trying to escape danger. Their efforts to organize for better conditions have been violently repressed by police, security forces, and hired thugs.
After 1,129 workers were killed in the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, more than 60 apparel brands and retailers from a dozen countries finally agreed to do something about workers’ safety. They signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between companies and Bangladeshi and international unions to make the factories safe.
The Accord requires companies to finance repairs and empowers workers to monitor and report on workplace hazards. Because the Accord is enforceable companies cannot simply walk away from dangerous workplaces as they have done in the past. They must fix the problems. Had it been in place in April this year, the workers at Rana Plaza could have exercised their right to refuse dangerous work when they saw cracks in the walls the day before the collapse. They probably would be alive today.
PVH Corporation, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and Abercrombie & Fitch are two prominent U.S. companies to sign the Accord. But Walmart, Gap, and many other U.S. retailers have refused to sign because they do not want an enforceable agreement with Bangladeshi unions. They prefer to make only unilateral unenforceable commitments without accountability to workers.
These companies understand that they have little credibility after years of asking consumers to trust that their voluntary codes of conduct assured safe and decent working conditions. So they have asked you, in your capacities as leaders of the Bipartisan Policy Center, to lend your senatorial reputations of independence and fairness by facilitating a corporate-led, non-binding safety program. This program will hinder, not help, Bangladeshi workers.
The Bangladesh Safety Accord is an unprecedented opportunity to improve conditions for Bangladeshi workers. Please do not let Walmart and Gap draw on you to legitimize an unenforceable, ineffective program. Tell them that a binding agreement with the unions in Bangladesh is the only way to save workers’ lives.
Central Maine Labor Council
Change to Win
Eastern Maine Central Labor Council
Food AND Medicine
Interfaith Worker Justice Southern Maine
International Labor Rights Forum
Island Peace & Justice
Maine Fair Trade Campaign
Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine
Power In Community Alliances (PICA)
Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods (M.A.I.N.)
Maine Women's Lobby
Maine Peace Action Committee, University of Maine
Southern Maine Workers’ Center
The Frances Perkins Center
United Students Against Sweatshops
Warehouse Workers United
Professor Douglas Allen
Matthew D. Beck
Douglas Born, President, Southern Maine Labor Council
Michael W. Howard
The Reverend Ann Kidder
Natalie M. Norton
Reverend Gerald Oleson OCF
Rev. Constantine Sarantidis
Rev. Michael Seavey
Shawn Yardley LSW