Bangladesh Worker Deaths May Change U.S. Shopping Habits

About 70 percent of Americans have heard of the building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people, and for some it means they’ll probably buy fewer goods made in the country.

Among those who learned of the deaths, 39 percent said they would probably buy fewer products produced in Bangladesh, according to a survey by Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults from May 14-16. Women are more likely to change shopping habits than men, 42 percent to 34 percent, the poll showed.

The Rana Plaza factory, an eight-story building in Savar, Bangladesh that housed garment factories, collapsed on April 24, killing at least 1,127 people. As rescuers searched for survivors in the following weeks the rising death toll brought increased media coverage. The incident, which is one of the world’s deadliest industrial accidents, has prompted more calls for reform in Bangladesh after a fire in an apparel factory there killed 112 people in November.

Apparel accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports and employs about 3.4 million people. As wages rose in other apparel-producing countries such as China, companies have turned to the cheaper labor in Bangladesh.

Since the collapse, companies that buy clothes made by factories in Bangladesh have announced plans to improve safety. A group of retailers comprising mostly European chains, including Hennes & Mauritz AB and Inditex SA, pledged $60 million over five years to increase monitoring of conditions.

Wal-Mart, Gap

Several U.S. chains, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc., didn’t sign the agreement. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, will instead make public the safety inspections of its 279 authorized suppliers in Bangladesh that are to be completed in the next six months. Gap has said it is “ready to sign,” pending a change to the provision regarding binding arbitration.

Workers there have also been protesting as they demand higher wages. The government has said it’s considering raising the minimum wage of about $39 a month.

The poll also asked respondents if they looked at labels to find out where a garment was made before purchasing, and 44 percent said they did. Americans older than 55 had the highest probability to do so at 53 percent. And while just 49 percent of respondents aged 18 to 34 had heard of the collapse, 86 percent of those aged 55 of higher knew.

Harris Poll asked these questions at the request of Bloomberg News.

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