Allies of Workers Burned to Death in Bangladesh Decide to Target Six Companies

DSC01102As we enter the final stretch of Christmas shopping, therapy folks are frantically buying up sexy Abercrombie & Fitch T-Shirts for their lovers, the newest GAP slacks for their parents or the cutest Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls for their toddlers.

But the young, destitute women in Bangladesh who produce those clothes in almost slave-like conditions aren’t feeling the holiday spirit after more than two dozen of them were burned to death last week.

28 workers were killed when a massive blaze broke out in an unsafe, multi-story sweatshop known as the “That’s It Sportswear” factory in the Ashulia industrial park just north the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. With a number of the exits blocked, most of the victims were burned to death, some trampled to death, some killed by suffocation and others jumped from the flames to their death. Several dozen more suffered severe burns.

A consortium of Bangladeshi and international activist groups have been working around the clock ever since trying to ascertain exactly what happened, which multinational clothing retailers buy from the factory, and what to demand of them.

The verdict? Owned by the Ha-Meem Group, the factory supplies cloths to: Abercrombie & Fitch; Target; JC Penney; Carters Inc., the leading US children’s clothing retailer and owner of the brand Osh Kosh B’Gosh (pictured); GAP Inc, the leading US clothing retailer and owner of the brands GAP, Banana Republic and Old Navy; the VF Corporation, a “$7 billion-plus apparel powerhouse” which owns Wrangler and Lee jeans, Jansport, North Face and Vans; and the Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation, which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and other brands. The Ha-Meem group also sells to H&M, Walmart, Kohl’s, Sears, Next and many more brands.

The latest in a series of deadly incidents in clothing factories in Bangladesh, earlier this year 21 workers died when the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, caught fire for the second time in six months!

Last week’s fire also came just days after deadly protests over clothing manufacturers’ failure to implement a required 80 percent increase in the minimum wage to 3,000 taka a month (about $42). That’s right folks, the workers who were burned alive while making $25 T-Shirts were likely being paid some $24 a month, less than $1 a day.

A coalition of Bangladeshi labor rights groups are organizing around this tragedy, demanding that the aforementioned companies provide just compensation to the victims and their families and launch thorough, independent, well funded and publicly transparent safety inspections of all multi-story supplier factories in Bangladesh in the supply chain of each brand and retailer.

They’ve decided to target all the companies named above, and asked for our help, saying that a huge outcry from American and European consumers will be a big boost to their call.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. ONLINE ACTION: Please add your name to the growing list of members standing with these organizers.
  2. OFFLINE ACTION: If you have time to do more, consider dropping off a protest letter at a major clothing retailer’s store. Check this sample, put together by organizers at the International Labor Rights Forum. Just ask to speak to the store manager, hand them the letter, and politely explain why you are concerned. Ask them to let the company’s corporate offices know that you stopped by to call on the company to do what it can, and thank them for their time. Then head outside and hand out these fliers in front of the store until you run out or get kicked out.

Labor rights activists have long called on U.S. brands to pressure their Asian manufacturers to improve safety conditions. This past April groups like the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Clean Cloths Campaign specifically called on major clothing brands to thoroughly review safety standards in multi-story factories, just like the locations of this recent fire.

Now they need our help. Consumers will play a huge role in getting multinationals like Gap and Target to change their behavior, and it’s moments like this when the growing community can play a critical role in tipping the balance. Every time a new person signs the petition below, senior officials responsible for each company’s Global Supply Chain will automatically get a direct, personal email. So once you join, will you forward this to friends and family, and post it on Facebook, so that these companies hear a global outcry?

Winning this and similar campaigns depends on our ability to quickly call on thousands of supportive folks like you. After signing the petition below, please click here to help us win!

Photo credit: International Labor Rights Forum