Gap and Wal-Mart are no strangers to labor-rights controversies — both retailers have routinely come under fire for being involved in sweatshop labor and human rights violations. After the devastating Bangladesh factory collapse tragedies, many U.S. and international retailers signed onto a legally binding factory accord, but Gap and Wal-Mart maintained that they disagreed with parts of the IndustriALL-led and would create their own. Their plan to do things differently is obviously worrying many human and labor-rights groups, but Gap and Wal-Mart will be forced to defend their own plans before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Congress this Thursday.
John Lubbe, the key defender of the new accord, put their main grievances with the InsutriaALL-led accord in four parts.
Firstly, he stated that "the accord requires a five-year commitment from participating retailers to conduct independent safety inspections of factories and pay up to $500,000 per year toward operational costs. A majority of U.S. retailers have stated they would not be able to sign the accord because of significant legal liability concerns."
Secondly, Lubbe maintains that the IndustriALL-led accord puts too much of the regulatory onus, including inspections, on the retailers, not the government. He argues, "While the U.S. retailers are prepared to contribute in a variety of ways to improving worker and building safety standards in Bangladesh, the primary regulatory and enforcement function of such standards remains under the auspices of the Bangladeshi government."
Thirdly, retailers that operate within one factory operation will be forced to work together in the event that a factory closes, must lay off its workers, or needs repairs.
And finally, Lubbe argues that arbitration and other legal activities that will undoubtedly come out of the IndustriALL accord will drive up the prices of its products.
It seems like the bulk of the concerns lay in creating more legal responsibility and checks for big brands than they're used to…which might not be a bad thing if the consequences are a reduction in worker deaths, inhumane labor conditions, and unstable local economies. And if we consumers have to pay a few pennies more for our tees…we hope we aren't being presumptuous in saying that that's a fair price for clean fashion. (WWD)