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AMSTDERDM – A new garment factory safety initiative in India has been accused of ignoring worker voices and the mistakes of the past. The Life and Building Safety (LABS) Initiative, developed by the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH, launched in Vietnam earlier this month, and also plans to expand to Pakistan and Cambodia in 2020. Participating companies are Bestseller, Gap Inc., PVH, Target, VF Corporation, and Walmart.

Clean Clothes Campaign claims LABS lacks teeth as there is no union participation or brand accountability.

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Clean Clothes claims several news incorrectly reported that LABS’ programme is based on the Accord experiences – of which we are guilty – although we would argue that any safety initiative is better than none in Pakistan, India and Cambodia, where factory safety mechanisms are currently poorly lacking. It is worth considering also that brands might be loathe to take the Accord elsewhere given that the government of Bangladesh has been so keen to usher it out of the country, despite its work been nowhere near complete.

“It is telling that four of the brands now behind the LABS initiative were main movers behind the Alliance as a business-controlled alternative to the Accord,” said Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum. “Walmart, Gap, VF, and Target have consistently rejected our calls to sign the Bangladesh Accord – why would the initiative pushed by them now be trusted to draw on the lessons of the Accord and put workers’ well-being over business interests?”

Clean Clothes claims that, even though LABS claims to have transparency as one of its core principles, vital resources that LABS promises to make public, such as its standards and factory assessments, “are currently still in the members-only part of its website.”

Adds a Clean Clothes statement: “Most strikingly, instead of LABS replicating the Accord’s strong mechanisms to enforce safety measures in factories through collective member brand leverage, LABS continues the corporate practice to audit and ignore. Even if factories consistently fail to remediate the safety issues uncovered by LABS, the programme leaves it to member brands’ individual decisions whether they want to continue to source from these suppliers. Instead of employing and training its own engineers like the Accord does, LABS places its trust in the same corporate social auditing firms that failed to prevent large-scale casualties in the past, including the foreseeable disaster of the Rana Plaza collapse and the deadly factory fires at the Tazreen and Ali Enterprises factories of 2012.”

Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign said: “LABS’ programme of inspecting factories without ultimately ensuring that the found safety risks are addressed, is a disaster waiting to happen. Brands like Walmart, whose audits failed to address the clear death trap of the Tazreen factory, should know that such false assurances have deadly consequences. The Bangladesh Accord is a carefully designed package of measures that circumvents the many flaws of the corporate social auditing system. Just shopping some elements from it will render the result meaningless. A safety initiative without the same level of worker participation, transparency, and binding and enforceable elements is only perpetuating business-driven initiatives of the past that failed to prevent thousands of worker deaths.”

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