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Walmart/Gap Bangladesh safety plan: pale imitation of Accord

10 July, 2013IndustriALL and UNI, reacting to the announcement by Walmart and Gap today of another toothless corporate auditing programme for Bangladesh factory safety, stated that these companies are only repeating the mistakes of the past.

The Walmart/Gap initiative falls short of the standard set by the binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord is an enforceable building safety programme backed by more than seventy global brands from 15 countries. Unlike the Accord, the Walmart/Gap initiative is unclear on enforceability and there is no commitment from the brands to stay in Bangladesh, nor is there full transparency.

IndustriALL Global Union, General Secretary, Jyrki Raina said,

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety signed between global unions, more than 80 global fashion brands, and NGOs provides assurance through a legally binding process that the commitments to inspect and improve garment factories will be carried out. This is the highest possible standard and one the Walmart/Gap initiative should be seeking to replicate. Instead what it provides is a pale imitation in terms of commitment and transparency. The workers’ and their unions’ voices will be heard loud and clear in the Accord but it will be muted in the plan presented by Walmart and Gap today.

UNI Global Union Deputy General Secretary, Christy Hoffman said,

Walmart are bringing their discount practices to factory safety. This is not a price war; this is about people’s lives. Walmart has dragged Gap and a number of other brands down the wrong track. We now urge the Walmart/Gap initiative to think again and raise its standard to those of the Accord out of respect for Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi garment workers.

Comparison of Accord with Walmart/Gap scheme

  • The Accord is a binding agreement between companies and unions, governed jointly. Worker representation is essential if the effort to protect workers is to succeed. The Walmart/Gap scheme was developed unilaterally with no meaningful involvement by worker representatives. It is another company controlled audit scheme like those which have failed in the past, including joint programmes like BSCI. Two factories at Rana Plaza passed BSCI audits and Walmart repeatedly audited Tazreen Fashions. More than 1,200 workers died at those locations, tragically underlining the failure of this system.
  • Under the Accord, all unsafe factories will be renovated and repaired with brands guaranteeing funds will be available for the necessary safety upgrade: the bottom line is factory safety.  Brands and retailers will pay what it takes to make all factories safe. Under the Walmart/Gap initiative, the bottom line is limiting the brands’ and retailers’ liability and costs. Although the Walmart/Gap initiative says that it will make loans available, unlike the Accord, there is no obligation to create commercial terms that would allow factory owners to repay.
  • Under the Accord, the right of workers to refuse dangerous work, including the right to refuse to enter a dangerous building, is protected. The Walmart/Gap scheme is silent on this issue.
  • The Accord provides full transparency. All reports of factory inspections will be made available to worker representatives and they will be notified right away of any imminent safety threats. All factory reports will be made public in a timely fashion and there is on-going public reporting on whether factories are being renovated as agreed. Under the Walmart/Gap scheme factory reports will only be made available where there are plans to remediate.

Walmart has a history of labour rights violations on a global scale. Gap and the other companies who have allowed it to take the lead on this initiative should ensure that standards are raised to the highest possible level as set by the Accord.

Tom Grinter, IndustriALL, Mobile: +41 79 693 44 99, 
[email protected]
Richard Elliott, UNI Global Union, Mobile: +41 79 794 9709,
[email protected]