Reaction to Bangladesh building collapse fractured

May 3, 2013 at 4:07 PM
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DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 3 (UPI) -- A politician and factory owner pleaded with clothing companies not to leave Bangladesh, where a factory collapse has provoked widespread anger.

"The whole nation should not be made to suffer. This industry is very important to us. Fourteen million families depend on this. It is a huge number of people who are dependent on this industry," said Mohammad Fazlul Azim as anger over a factory building collapse that killed more than 500 people last week.

The reaction to the disaster has been widespread, but fractured. Walt Disney Co., said it would stop producing clothing in the country. On Monday, representatives from more than 30 retail companies met with leaders from worker advocacy groups in Germany to discuss how to react to the disaster, but the meeting ended with no consensus or concrete plan, which left many with the impression retailers had walked away from making a commitment on safety for workers, The New York Times reported Friday.

"What role does industry play in propagating a manufacturing culture that would take such risks with people's lives? I'm troubled by the deafening silence from other apparel retailers on this issue," said Galen Weston, chairman of Canadian retail chain Loblaw, which produces the Joe Fresh clothing line.

But only two of the 30 companies that produced clothing in the building that collapsed have spoken publicly about the tragedy, Weston said.

A few companies have pledged help for families of those who died or were injured in the collapse, but some backed away, fearing an ongoing legal tie-up, the Times said.

Loblaw and British-Irish company Primark have taken the lead in creating a fund for victims, but many others, including Walmart and Gap have "balked" at signing on, the Times said.

Protesters, however, have called for long-term changes in building inspection policies in Bangladesh or some other legislative response and that effort also lacks consensus.

"One of the big gaps here is that governments are standing on the sideline. They're neither pushing a united strategy among big companies nor pushing hard enough on the Bangladesh government to do the right thing. It's one thing to convene a meeting, it's another thing to say to brands, 'You have to work together to fix this,'" said Michael Posner, a former assistant secretary of state of human and labor rights in the Obama administration.

Gap said it would launch a $22 million safety plan with its suppliers. Walmart said it would commit $1.8 million to train 2,000 factory managers in Bangladesh about fire safety, the Times said.

Posner called Walmart's response "a drop in the bucket when you consider you have a thousand faulty workplaces" in the country.

He also said the Obama administration was not reacting forcefully enough.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the top ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Representative George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House Labor Committee also said the Obama administration should put pressure on companies and on Bangladesh for a stronger reaction.

"You can't do this piecemeal. You have to take the bear by the tail and get everyone to the table. The governments haven't done that," he said.

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