Victory! Gap Pledges to Do the Right Thing After Bangladesh Factory Fire

One month ago today, rehabilitation 28 workers were burned to death and hundreds more injured at a tragic fire in an unsafe, multi-story clothing factory just north the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. With a number of the exits locked by management, some workers 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.

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

We weren’t about to sit back and let such an easily preventable tragedy in a slave-like sweatshop producing luxury cloths for American companies go unanswered.

Change.org members sprung into action, and more than 25,000 of us from 71 countries called on all international companies sourcing from the “That’s It Sportswear” factory to 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.

It hasn’t been easy. As Change.org members piled on the pressure, groups like the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, the Clean Cloths Campaign and the Workers Rights Corsortium have taken the lead in negotiating with the clothing companies to get concrete commitments.

One month after the tragedy, we are pleased to announce that the GAP, to the company’s credit, has responded to the concerns of Change.org members, consumers and labor rights groups by agreeing to just compensation and an urgent program of factory inspections. If Gap follows through on these pledges (and we will be following this closely!) and if other brands follow suit, it will mean justice for the victims of this preventable tragedy and a vigorous and transparent program to ensure that no more apparel workers in Bangladesh die as a result of their employers’ negligence.

YES!

Unfortunately, while Gap has committed to do the right thing, the other major brands and retailers have refused to make any commitment and have failed to respond in any meaningful way to the demands of labor rights groups.

JC Penney, Abercrombie, Philips-Van Heusen, Target, VF, and Carters/OshKosh all bear responsibility for this horrific and preventable slaughter – which consigned 28 people to a horrible death, injured many more, and devastated the lives of hundreds of these workers’ family members, all because these brands failed to ensure that their supplier took minimal safety precautions. But as week after week passes, these brands do nothing, ignoring calls for justice from people all over the world and labor rights organizations all across Bangladesh.

International labor activists leading negotiations with the clothing companies have specifically told us that the Change.org action played a key role in getting GAP on board, and will continue to play a critical role in pressuring the remaining companies to do the same.

For tens of thousands of Change.org members to have successfully leveraged our collective power to push the GAP into both take responsibility for this tragedy and make concrete, specific pledges in line with our demands is an amazing victory! We would never have gotten 25,000 people from more than 70 countries to take action without working together, and thanks goes out to all the loyal followers of the Human Rights blog, who took the lead in driving a quick, strong and coherent response to the tragedy by sharing the petition with everyone and their grandmother. A big thanks also goes out to Change.org’s Human Trafficking and Women’s Rights communities, who have supported the campaign from the start.

But the fight doesn’t end here! JC Penney, Abercrombie, Philips-Van Heusen, Target, VF, and Carters/OshKosh are refusing to take responsibility. These are principally American companies accountable to American consumers. We need to show these companies that we will not stop until they agree to just compensation to the victims and their families and thorough, independent, well funded and publicly transparent safety inspections of all multi-story supplier factories in their supply chain.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Share the petition with everyone you know. 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 Change.org 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?
  2. Take 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.
  3. Help Get Union Leader Released: On the same day as the tragic fire at the “That’s It Sportswear” factory, individuals claiming to be part of the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh Police force arrested Moshrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers Unity Forum. Global Citizens has a petition demanding her release.
  4. Show Solidarity: Activists at the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, partners in the long battle to hold multinationals buying from Bangladeshi factories accountable, were arrested in September, part of the broader effort by the Bangladeshi government to silent those speaking out about labor and human rights issues. The Bangladeshi government also took away their license to operate as an organization and they then lost much of their international funding. It has been a complete disaster. Activists at the International Labor Rights Forum tell us that at least 2 factories were behind the charges that were filed that led to their subsequent arrest, and the key international buyer is Walmart, Sears and JC Penney. The trial is this month, and the International Labor Rights Forum is running a petition.

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 credits: Dorsetdude and the International Labor Rights Forum