Target Responds to Bangladesh Fires Campaign

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Yesterday we wrote that two companies – Target (TGT) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) – have refused to compensate the families of 28 workers killed in a fire while making their clothes.

Last night Kay Schultz, prosthetic a senior group manager at Target, called Change.org. In good faith, we are printing the transcript of that conversation without any commentary. You can follow the Bangladesh fires campaign on Facebook.

Change.org: What is Target’s response to this fire?

Target: Target takes this very seriously. We have joined with all the other brands sourcing from the factory [where the fire took place] and I just spent hours speaking with all of them. We’ve been working with our vendors and we anticipate a collective response soon. We are tightening our standards for fire safety in Bangladesh along with the other brands, and we are trying to come together as a group.

Change.org: Why has it taken so long to respond?

Target: None of us like what happened here, but the hard part is that the timing for the demands we’ve been asked to meet is not realistic. Arranging these kinds of changes does take more time than some people would like.

The fire took place on December 9. Immediately after, everyone was doing their own investigations. Then you had the year end and everyone was off. Today I spent the better half of my day on conference calls figuring out what we’re going to do.

I am calling because I want to understand what we have to do to get our brand off the Change.org petition. I am hoping you can tell me what we need to do and we will try to do it.

Change.org: Last week labor rights groups held a meeting to coordinate a response among all companies sourcing from the factory where the fire took place. Why weren’t you there?

Target: We are based in Minnesota and the meeting was in D.C. I found out about it a week ahead of time and was unable to be there in person. In hindsight I misjudged the importance of the meeting so we asked if we could join via conference call. It’s really unfortunate that we were unable to participate via conference call.

Change.org: What kind of auditing system do you have in place in Bangladesh?

Target: In the past we used third party auditors, but we now have our own auditor in northern India and she is also able to audit in Bangladesh and will be doing so in the first quarter of this year.

Change.org: Why has Target refused to compensate workers injured in the fire and the families of those who died?

Target: Right now there is discussion as to how they came up with this particular amount of compensation. From Target’s standpoint we have a very large supply chain, and whatever we do in Bangladesh we should be able to do in other countries as well, so that amount is not sustainable for us as a company.

Change.org: So Target would, in principle, be willing to contribute to a compensation program for those who suffered in this fire?

Target: We wouldn’t give compensation directly but we would work with our vendor, the factory and the garment association to ensure that compensation is given.

Change.org: Meaning?

Target: I understand that we, as participating brands/retailers, have some responsibility, but my question is where is the Bangladeshi government? Where is the garment association? In other words we do believe that these families should be given just compensation but we think that the Hameem Group, the vendors, the garment association and the government all have a role in that. We see ourselves as playing a big role in making sure that they are held accountable.

Change.org: Target has profits of some $20 billion a year. If those groups say they can’t afford the compensation required, would you be willing to help fund compensation?

Target: We’d have to cross that bridge when we get to it, so I really can’t answer that question right now. For now we are working on a collective response as a buyer group, and will be contacting the labor rights groups in a few days.

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