Is Your Shirt From Here? JCPenney, Mango Among Companies That Used Fatal Bangladesh Factory
The list of retailers whose clothing was made at the Bangladesh factory complex where the collapse has killed nearly 400 is growing. Nina Strochlic on the unending cycle of tragedies.
Was your shirt or jeans stitched by one of the nearly 1,000 garment workers who were injured or killed in the recent factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh? You might want to check the label.
Bangladeshi volunteers and rescue workers are pictured at the scene after an eight-story building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 25, 2013. (Munir uz Zaman/AFP/Getty)
In the week since an eight-story, four-factory complex collapsed in Bangladesh, online records and physical debris revealed a growing list of international retailers tied to the suppliers housed in the Rana Plaza building. More than a dozen brands have been identified—including big names like The Children’s Place, Benetton, Mango, and Primark—and a number of these companies have emerged to explain their association with the shoddily built, illegal bloc that housed the factories.
In an assembly line with so many middlemen, who’s to blame? Garment workers, among the world’s worst paid and treated laborers, increasingly have fallen victim to unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh, where the $20 billion garment industry employs 3.2 million people. But in the finger pointing after every disaster, little progress is made to fix the issue, as companies often blame corrupt government inspectors or factory owners, who blame companies for the pressures of a rigorous supply schedule. In the wake of a string of deadly factory accidents, critics argue a stricter set of checks and balances must be implemented across the board—and taken out of the hands of international retailers.
“You’re the leader in the industry, and the industry’s been structured in a way that keeps responsibility at a distance from you and that’s not acceptable,” says Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), of the companies. She calls the current systems in place “woefully inadequate” and saying, “frankly, they don’t want responsibility for those workers.”
The Daily Beast contacted 11 international retailers whose names surfaced in connection to the factories, and two responded with comments by press time.
Department store JCPenney noted that while no company-label merchandise was produced at the factory, product slated for its stores was. “While JCPenney has no direct insight into the development and sourcing of Joe Fresh apparel, we will continue to be a part of a broader coalition that aims to improve the safe working conditions in Bangladesh,” a spokeswoman said in an email to The Daily Beast.
Some, including Benetton and Mango, have acknowledged using the factories but said they were not official suppliers and had not been fully audited. “A one-time order was completed and shipped out of one of the manufacturers involved several weeks prior to the accident,” Benetton said in a statement. “Since then, this subcontractor has been removed from our supplier list.”
According to activists, labels were found for French supermarket Carrefour and European retailer C&A, both of which deny current involvement with the suppliers. The Children’s Place and the Dress Barn said they were prior customers but hadn’t done business with the factories in years. And despite one of the factory websites claiming Walmart as a customer, the world’s largest retailer denies the association.
Bangladeshi relatives of missing workers in a building that collapsed Wednesday hold pictures of their family members in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 28, 2013. (Kevin Frayer/AP)\
“We ask ourselves, how many more workers have to die for there to be a significant change?”
Others have been more forthcoming. Bonmarché, in the United Kingdom, confirmed it was working with one of the factories, telling The Daily Beast, the company has “a clear supplier code of conduct, in line with industry standards.” Both Loblaw Co., the Canadian retailer that owns Joe Fresh, and the U.K. clothing chain Primark announced they would dole out reparations to family members of the victims, including long-term provisions and immediate aid. “We are fully aware of our responsibility,” Primark said in a statement. “We urge these other retailers to come forward and offer assistance.”
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