An Open Letter to Gap and Walmart

To Whom It May Concern,

As I follow the news of developments in my country following the Rana Plaza collapse, I see one common headline flashing out from all sources. Gap and Walmart are refusing to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. And all I can think of when I see this – as the deadline reaches its final 24 hours – is why not?

You might be making the mistake of thinking that unions and the free market work in the same way as it does in the USA. Understandable; you have no direct frame of reference to think otherwise. But while the model is theoretically the same, the reality is far from it. Workers have little, if any, control over what is done. The fact that the 1,127 deaths in the recent collapse were caused by workers being forced into an unsafe building is proof enough of that. The Accord is the first step to actually providing the framework that you yourselves are privileged enough to take for granted in your own country.

You might be unwilling to take this step due to economic reasons. I am not naive enough to think that money is not a consideration for you. Gap Inc. has specifically pointed out that there are clauses on labour dispute that they disagree with, though what the clauses entail and why there is disagreement on it is anyone’s guess at this point. But while I appreciate the reality of being a company – not to mention the commendable fact that you have chosen to continue talks (as per your official statement) instead of pulling out completely – what you seem to be ignoring is how much of a difference you can make by signing on.

Yes, there are problems. What agreement is ever based on unanimous acceptance? That is the whole point of accords and treaties – they are compromises, a means to create an imperfect solution to a glaring issue. By declining to sign the Accord, you are also denying one of the most important aspects of it – the commitment from big investors from the USA. So far, H&M, Zara, Tesco and Primark have all agreed (among others), so the biggest companies from the UK and the EU are aboard. But your refusal is depriving the support of one of the biggest markets for our country. And, if the flaws in our system and past incidents are anything to go by, factories that you outsource to are very likely to take advantage of your hesitance and not improve their safety standards. Given our country’s weak legal system, these potential breaches will go unpunished until another disaster occurs. You might be willing to take that risk, but I do not think that putting even one more life in danger, let alone another 1,127, is a viable option.

On a small side note, I would also like to address people who are defending Gap and Walmart by pointing out they did not outsource to the factories in Rana Plaza. This is not a proposal to tackle one catastrophe; it is a proposal to prevent more from happening. To take such a narrow-minded and, frankly, ludicrous line of defence is demeaning to both the proposal and to any valid claims laid down by the companies themselves. (Plus, if we must be pedantic, do not forget that the 100+ deaths from the Tazreen Factory fire last November happened in a Walmart-endorsed workplace.)

I would like to end this plea, rambling and incoherent as it is, by urging you to reconsider your position. I am not trying to use economics and theory, for that is not my strong suit. Nor am I attempting undue emotional blackmail, though ignoring the tragedy is beyond my capabilities. I am simply pointing out the reality that, without your backing, the Accord will not be anywhere near as effective as it could or should be. Make changes to it. Push for deeper legislation in later proposals. But do not turn your backs on us. We do not deserve that.

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