Photo by Northfoto/Shutterstock

As dozens of anti-sweatshop protestors faced arrest outside Gap’s annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, the retail giant defended its decision not to sign the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Although more than 40 Western brands and retailers, including Gap competitors such as H&M, Mango, and Zara, have agreed to hold themselves legally accountable for safety and labor conditions in the factories they employ in the South Asian nation, Gap has held back. But don’t mistake the company’s reticence for callousness, according to Angela Leung Wasmer, the company’s director of global public affairs. “Gap takes our commitments very seriously,” Wasmer says in a video on We Are Committed, a website Gap launched on Sunday to address the issue. “We see all of our commitments as things we will do each and every day.”

PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: More Brands, Retailers Commit to Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety

HOLDING OUT

The retailer is “much closer than we are far apart” on the agreement, says Wasmer, adding that Gap wants to clarify some terms regarding dispute resolution before it can participate. The company, which owns the Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and Piperlime brands, also cites legal liability as a key sticking point. “We worry that labor is unnecessarily creating an environment where American companies may feel the risk is too high to remain committed to Bangladesh,” Gap spokesman Bill Chandler told CNN on Tuesday.

Labor advocates claim that Gap wants to remove a provision that makes the accord legally binding, rendering it unenforceable.

Labor advocates claim that Gap wants to remove a provision that makes the accord legally binding, rendering it unenforceable.

“Gap says it will sign the agreement, as long as it isn’t binding,” Rob Wohl, a campaigner with SumofUs.org, writes on the petition site. “That’s ridiculous. Even the rest of the garment industry acknowledges that corporate-controlled codes of conduct have failed and that legally binding safety standards are necesssary to ensure that the clothes we buy aren’t made in death traps.”

In other words, Wohl says, Gap is saying “we’ll sign, as long as no one can hold us accountable when we don’t follow through.”

“Non-binding, corporate-controlled codes of conduct have failed Bangladeshi workers for 20 year,” he adds. “A non-binding agreement is more of the same. Only a binding agreement can reform the garment industry in Bangladesh.”

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Photo by Northfoto/Shutterstock

TAKE ACTION

Want to do your part? Wohl and SumofUs.org suggest the following ways you can help Gap “get the message”:

1. Call Gap’s customer service line at 800-427-7895 and press 4 to speak to a live representative. When you get an answer, let Gap know that it needs to sign a binding agreement to protect Bangladeshi workers. Some talking points:

  • The binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement is now the industry standard. More than 40 companies have signed on.
  • Non-binding, corporate-controlled codes of conduct have failed Bangladeshi workers for 20 years. A non-binding agreement is more of the same. Only a binding agreement can reform the garment industry in Bangladesh.
  • Many of Gap’s top competitors have signed the agreement, including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara, and Benetton.

2. Click here to write on Gap’s Facebook wall. Here are some examples of messages you can leave for the company, or you can write your own.

  • Gap needs to make a stand, right now, to ensure that tragedies like Rana Plaza never happen again. Gap should stop trying to undermine the agreement by preventing it from being legally binding. Sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. http://on.fb.me/13woD9D
  • I will not shop at a store that gambles with people’s lives. By refusing to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, Gap is displaying a disgusting level of greed. Stop putting lives at risk and sign now. http://on.fb.me/13woD9D
  • Gap’s refusal to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement is a disgrace to the company, and to everyone involved in decision-making. Shame on Gap. Stop dragging your feet and join the many other companies that have already signed the agreement. http://on.fb.me/13woD9D

3. Email Kindley Walsh-Lawlor, Gap’s vice president for social responsibility, at [email protected], or Eva Sage-Gavin, vice president for employee relations, at [email protected]. Some talking points:

  • The binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement is now the industry standard. More than 40 companies have signed on.
  • Non-binding, corporate-controlled codes of conduct have failed Bangladeshi workers for 20 years. A non-binding agreement is more of the same. Only a binding agreement can reform the garment industry in Bangladesh.
  • Many of Gap’s top competitors have signed the agreement, including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara, and Benetton.

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Update: May 22, 2015
People are inundating Gap’s Facebook page to take the retailer to task for failing to sign the Bangladesh safety accord. A few shareholders at Gap’s annual meeting on Tuesday also questioned the retailer’s failure to sign the agreement, according to the
New York Times.

“In the United States, there’s maybe a bigger legal risk than there is in Europe,” Gap’s chief executive, Glenn Murphy, responded. “If we were to sign onto something that had unlimited legal liability and risk, I think our shareholders should care about that.”

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