U.S. Retailers Release Alternative Factory Safety Plan

Over a dozen U.S. clothing retailers including Wal-mart, Gap, Target, Kohl's, and Macy's, announced a plan Wednesday for improving the safety of their factories. Their plan, which they are calling the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, contains noticeable differences from the earlier plan signed on Monday by 70 (mostly European) brands.

Both proposals come two months after the collapse of the Rana Plaza industrial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh last April, which left over 1,129 workers dead. The tragedy was followed by multiple demonstrations and pressure from consumer and labor groups to change factory safety policies.

The European plan rejected by most U.S. retailers contains far-reaching pledges to ensure funds to fix any potentially dangerous fire and building safety problems in factories used in Bangladesh. It also gave retailers nine months to pass an inspection using a checklist of health, electrical, structural, and fire safety standards.

The U.S. proposal, on the other hand, requires retailers to inspect the roughly 500 factories that the American companies use within twelve months, and then make plans to fix any serious safety problems that are found. As for addressing funds to fix building safety problems, the U.S. proposal aims for more "shared accountability," which is essentially a euphamism for the companies splitting the bill with factory owners, the government of Bangladesh, and various governments and aid agencies.

Many U.S. retailers rejected the earlier European plan because they claimed it would give labor unions too much control. So it's no surprise that critics of the American plan are now faulting it for not including the views of unions or workers, and for a lackluster commitment to fund safety improvements in factories.