Statement by Richard L. Trumka (AFL-CIO) and Joe Hansen (Change to Win)
The so-called Global Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, announced today by Walmart, Gap and the Bipartisan Policy Center, was developed without consultation with workers or their representatives and is yet another “voluntary” scheme with no meaningful enforcement mechanisms. Companies that sign onto the alliance but fail to meet a commitment face no adverse consequences beyond expulsion from the scheme. Instead, workers will continue to pay.
In stark contrast, more than 75 corporations from 15 countries, including the United States, have signed the binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety negotiated with Bangladeshi and international unions. The Accord has rules to make real improvements in the safety of garment workers. Workers, unions and worker rights organizations negotiated this agreement with employers and integrated worker safety efforts by governments and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, along with global unions IndustriAll and UNI and numerous organizations representing Bangladeshi workers, also endorse it. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win reject the Walmart/GAP plan as a way to avoid accountability, limit costs and silence workers and their representatives.
Rather than sign the binding Accord, Walmart and Gap are pushing a weak and worthless plan that avoids enforceable commitments. The Bipartisan Policy Center, which has clear financial and political connections to Walmart, is releasing the document, which is the product of a closed process and has been signed only by the same corporations that produced it.
The Accord departs from the broken system of voluntary corporate responsibility in supply chains that has so often failed to protect workers. It makes a clear commitment to worker safety and rights, and to transparency. It expresses values that most countries uphold.
The Accord has been endorsed by the United Nations, the ILO, the government of Bangladesh, both the parliament and commission of the European Union, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Members and leaders in both houses of the U.S. Congress have also endorsed the Accord.
In the last eight years, more than 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses while producing mostly for European and U.S. markets. This tragic loss of life requires more than a wink and a nod from two of the richest corporations in the world. It means taking responsibility for the safety of workers by entering into a legitimate, binding process that will save lives. Seventy-five brands have taken that important step. It is time for Walmart and GAP to join them, rather than trying to undermine those efforts and maintain a system that has a long and bloody record of failure.