New Casualties in Bangladesh Garment Factory Underscore that "Business as Usual" is Unacceptable, Say Investors

In Letter to 21 Apparel Manufacturers and Retailers, Investors Emphasize Urgency to Join the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (the Accord)

NEW YORK, NY //October 9, 2013///As news broke today of yet another fire in a Bangladesh garment factory, members of an investor coalition coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility announced that they are actively engaging the apparel brands and retailers they hold, reiterating the urgent need for them to commit to join the Bangladesh Accord which seeks to protect workers from fire and safety hazards.

A global investor initiative, backed by over 200 institutional investors representing $3.1 trillion in assets under management from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe have been calling for the industry to unite around the Accord since the collapse of Rana Plaza in May . A subset of over 100 investors from this coalition sent letters to 21 apparel brands and retailers that have thus far failed to join the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

The Accord, a multi-stakeholder initiative that emerged following the Rana Plaza collapse which killed over 1,200 garment factory workers, includes global brands, trade unions, civil society organizations and a representative of the International Labor Organization acting as an independent chair. Brands and retailers that join the Bangladesh Accord make binding commitments to make the changes necessary to ensure worker safety.

The letter, sent to top apparel and retail brands such as Adidas, Ann Inc., Columbia Sportswear, Dillard’s, Foot Locker, Guess, Li & Fung, Lululemon Athletica, Nike, Ralph Lauren and Urban Outfitters cites the Accord as the best path towards the systemic reforms necessary to mitigate against the health and safety risks faced by garment workers in Bangladesh.

The news today of yet another fire in a Bangladesh garment factory where major U.S. retailers are sourcing underscores the urgency for companies to act now and join the Accord,” said Rev. Séamus Finn of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. “Only when all stakeholders come together to resolve these safety issues will these tragedies finally cease.”

Greater transparency and disclosure of factories is one of the terms of the Accord which currently includes more than 85 companies. The list of 1,557 supplier factories covered by the Accord was published on its new website  which went live Monday.

The labour rights violations of the kind we saw in Rana Plaza pose a serious risk not only to the companies involved but to us, investors,  as evidenced by the many important signatories of all sizes and across the globe to these letters,” said Helena  Vines Fiestas Head of SRI Research of BNP Paribas Investment Partners. “We are committed to respecting human and labour rights across our operations, as responsible investors, we expect the companies we own to make those same commitments. This letter is the first step in an international investor initiative designed to encourage companies sourcing from Bangladesh of the urgency to be proactive on worker safety by joining the Accord. A non-response would be perceived by investors as a failure in health and safety due diligence on behalf of companies.”

“Now is not the time for companies to sit on the sidelines and ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option,” remarked ICCR’s David Schilling.  “This is the time to make firm commitments that stand to not only address the critical issues facing the Bangladesh garment industry today, but have the potential to transform the way factory safety and worker rights are guaranteed across every sector and geography going forward.”

Said Adam Kanzer of Domini Social Investments, “As we learned so tragically from the collapse of Rana Plaza last spring, and again today with news of more deaths at Aswad Composite Mills, fundamental, system-wide changes are desperately needed. The Accord reflects the voices of all relevant stakeholders, is well-supported and currently in the implementation stages. If a company sourcing from Bangladesh hasn’t made a formal commitment to join it, we want to know why. When lives are at stake, inaction is simply unacceptable.”

Susana McDermott
Director of Communications, ICCR
[email protected]

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR):
Currently celebrating its 43rd year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of active shareholders who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for change.  Its 300 member organizations with over $100 billion in AUM have an enduring record of corporate engagement that has demonstrated influence on policies promoting justice and sustainability in the world.