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Bangladesh Safety Accord Is Too Binding for American Retailers

Rescue workers and volunteers remove clothing garments as they search for victims amongst the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 26
Rescue workers and volunteers remove clothing garments as they search for victims amongst the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 26Photograph by Jeff Holt/Bloomberg

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that none of the biggest American retailers signed a global accord to improve the safety of garment factories in Bangladesh. Wal-Mart Stores didn’t sign. Gap didn’t. J.C. Penney didn’t. These companies are concerned about preventing the fires and collapses that have killed more than 1,100 Bangladeshi workers in the past six months. But signing a legally binding agreement with built-in systems to resolve disputes that was created with labor unions? That’s too European.

Wal-Mart said yesterday (PDF): “While we agree with much of the proposal, the IndustriALL plan also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers, and government.” Instead, Wal-Mart will conduct, within the next six months, its own safety inspections of the 279 factories its contractors are authorized to use; will require “remediation as necessary;” and will make the results public.