New York, NY – Following the recent tragedies in Bangladesh’s garment factories where more than a thousand workers were killed, labor groups urged the clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. UNITE HERE, the labor union representing textile and hospitality workers throughout North America, collected approximately 12,000 petitions and distributed handbills at 40 American Eagle stores over the past month in an effort to urge American Eagle to join the Accord.
In a message to the Global Union Federation IndustriALL on Wednesday, July 10, American Eagle stated its intent to sign on to the Accord and join this historic effort to improve workplace safety in the troubled Bangladeshi garment industry. Global Union Federations IndustriALL and UNI worked with companies and NGOs to draft the Accord and convened companies and unions as signatories; UNITE HERE is an affiliate of both IndustriALL and UNI. American Eagle did not source from the factories where the calamities occurred, but as a significant buyer of Bangladeshi apparel, the company can play an important role in protecting worker safety and preventing future tragedies. Today, students and UNITE HERE members are joined by Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) of Bangladesh, celebrating this victory and discussing next steps iindn the effort to expand the Accord to other retailers. Visiting New York on a US tour in conjunction with the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Mr. Amin is calling for greater cooperation through the Accord to improve conditions in the garment industry, and highlighting the urgent need to press other retailers to join in this initiative for meaningful reform in Bangladesh.
"It’s an exciting day for garment workers in Bangladesh and throughout the world. I’m looking forward to harnessing the energy of this victory and continuing to fight for workers’ rights abroad and here at home too," said Mike Stivers, a junior at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, who was part of the efforts to collect petitions urging American Eagle to join the Accord as part of UNITE HERE’s Organizing Beyond Barriers summer internship program.
Among NGWF’s membership were workers in the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,129 workers on April 24th. Following this tragedy, the NGWF has waged protests calling for full and fair compensation for the injured workers, as well as for the families of workers who were killed, and demanding that multinational companies buying apparel from Bangladesh join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Mr. Amin sits on the Steering Committee for the Accord.
"The news that American Eagle has signed on to the Accord is a testament to the power that young individuals have. It is only through this sort of collective effort and intersectional collaboration that we were able to put so much pressure on a company like American Eagle and achieve legally-binding results,” Stivers added.
Also on Wednesday, a group of 17 North American retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap, Target, Macy’s, and Nordstrom, announced a much weaker, alternative plan to address building and fire safety in Bangladesh that has been described by the International Labor Rights Forum as a "corporate-run factory auditing scheme, another in the long series of ineffective corporate auditing programs that these companies have touted for years." The AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation described the alternative plan as a "watered-down and unenforceable version of the Accord for those companies that would prefer not to make a serious commitment to worker’s rights." Labor rights activists view American Eagle’s move to join the binding, original Accord as an encouraging sign that more US retailers will join this more substantive plan to improve factory conditions in Bangladesh and prevent catastrophes like the collapse at Rana Plaza and the November 2012 Tazreen factory fire from ever happening again.