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Entries in Bangladesh (2)

Monday
Nov262012

$1,200 a Life: Clothing Company Pays Peanuts to Families of Factory Fire Victims

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A company that makes clothes for Sean Combs' clothing brand ENYCE and other U.S. labels reassured investors that a factory fire that killed 112 people over the weekend would not harm its balance sheet, and also pledged to pay the families of the dead $1,200 per victim.

In an announcement Monday, Li & Fung Ltd., a middleman company that supplies clothes from Bangladesh factories to U.S. brands, said "it wishes to clarify" that the deadly Saturday-night blaze at the high-rise Tazreen Fashions factory outside Dhaka "will not have any material impact on the financial performance" of the firm.

The fire broke out on the ground floor of the nine-floor building as hundreds of workers were upstairs on a late-night shift producing fleece jackets and trousers for the holiday rush at American stores, including Walmart, according to labor rights groups. Fire officials said the only way out was down open staircases that fed right into the flames. Some workers died as they jumped from higher floors.

 

After reassuring investors about its financial health, Li & Fung's statement went on to express "deepest condolences" to the families of the dead, and pledge the equivalent of $1,200 to each family. The company also said it would set up an educational fund for the victims' children.

As reported on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer earlier this year, Bangladesh has become a favorite of many American retailers, drawn by the cheapest labor in the world, as low as 21 cents an hour, producing clothes in crowded conditions that would be illegal in the U.S. In the past five years, more than 700 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires.

"[It's] the cheapest place, the worst conditions, the most dangerous conditions for workers and yet orders continue to pour in," said Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, an American group working to improve conditions at factories abroad that make clothes for U.S. companies. Nova said the fire was the most deadly in the history of the Bangladesh apparel industry, and "one of the worst in any country."

Monday, U.S. companies extended condolences to the families of the victims, and scrambled to answer questions about the dangerous factory that had been making their clothes.

Walmart inspectors had warned last year that "the factory had violations or conditions which were deemed to be high risk," according to a document posted online.

Yet Walmart clothing continued to be made at the factory, according to workers groups who found clothing with Walmart's private label, Faded Glory, in the burned-out remains along with clothing for a number of other U.S. labels, including ENYCE, Dickies and a brand associated with Sears.

Walmart confirmed Monday that its clothes were being made at the Tazreen factory. Even though Walmart is famed for maintaining tight control over its supply chain, the company said its clothes were being made at the plant without its knowledge.

A Walmart spokesman said that the Tazreen factory "was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Walmart. A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies. Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier. The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh." Though Li & Fung is known to supply clothes to Walmart, and to have subcontracted work to the Tazreen factory, Walmart did not name the supplier it had fired.

Sears initially told ABC News the company "does not source from this factory. In addition, Sears recognizes that fire safety is a critical international issue that we intend to address through specialized training for management in those factories that produce merchandise for Sears Holdings."

Told that lingerie labeled True Desire, a Sears brand, had been found in the burned factory, a Sears spokesman said "any merchandise found at that factory should NOT have been manufactured there and we are currently investigating further." Sears said it had not used the Tazreen factory since 2011.

The president of ENYCE clothes, which is owned by Sean Combs, extended the firm's "deepest condolences [to] the families of the victims" and confirmed that ENYCE Kids is licensed to Li & Fung, "which operates, produces and oversees all manufacturing for the brand."

"Compliance and safety are important to us," said Jeffrey Tweedy, president of ENYCE, "and we expect all our licensees to have in place compliant standards for fire and safety conditions at any factory that may produce our brand."

Labor activists also said they found garments with the Dickies label in the factory, and provided photos. Dickies said in a statement that the company's "thoughts and prayers" were those affected by the fire, but that the company had concluded its production schedule "with this vendor earlier this year."

The statement also said that "it is standard operating procedure at Williamson-Dickie to ensure the global vendors and suppliers we work with provide a safe work environment in accordance with all applicable laws and fair labor practices."

ABC News reached out to Li & Fung's New York office for comment, but messages left Monday were not returned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar222012

Is Tony Hawk's Clothing Line Made in Unsafe Factories?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Celebrity skateboard icon Tony Hawk has parlayed his rugged image into a brand that earns more than $200 million a year and dominates the young men and boys clothing aisles at the discount department store Kohl's. The Hawk label was also on the garment factory floor in a Bangladesh high-rise just over a year ago when a fire swept through the upper stories, killing 29 workers.

Making clothes in the world's cheapest labor market helps keep down costs for American consumers, but also carries risks for the people inside the factories.

"Bangladesh is the cheapest place in the world to make apparel," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. "The lowest wages -- 21 cents an hour -- the weakest regulations, the worst attention to workplace safety. All this adds up to terrible conditions for workers, but great prices for apparel buyers and that's why the brands and retailers are there."

On Wednesday, an ABC News investigation exposed the heavy toll paid by workers who make the clothing that Americans wear -- with nearly 500 dead in fires at garment factories in Bangladesh over the past five years. Designer Tommy Hilfiger acknowledged in an interview with ABC News that the garment industry has done too little to protect workers who make their clothes, and responded with an unprecedented commitment to improve fire safety -- pledging more than $1 million to help support an independent fire inspector for the factories in Bangladesh.

But other brands have been slower to act, said Nova, who represents one of several advocacy groups that has spent more than a year trying to get the brands to take tangible steps to prevent future tragedies.

"There's always the claim that they care and want things to improve. What matters here is action," Nova said. "And we're aware of no action that Tony Hawk of Kohl's has taken since this tragic fire to actually improve their practices."

ABC News caught up with Hawk at the opening of a California skate park and asked him about the fire.

"It's tragic," Hawk told ABC News. "I think that the safety standards need to change and I support whatever change that they can make there."

Hawk said he and other celebrities who have licensed their names to clothing lines have a responsibility to insure people are not dying to make their garments.

"Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. It's just difficult because my clothing company actually got purchased by another company and got licensed, so there was kind of a separation, a removal," he said. "But I definitely want to follow up and make sure that it's safe. I mean that's the bottom line, it has to be safe."

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Twenty-nine workers at the factory where Hawk's clothing line for Kohl's, as well as items for PVH Corp., Gap and other popular American brands, are manufactured, perished in the December 2010 blaze. The fire seemed to encapsulate in one tragic incident the range of dangers that have for years faced the low-wage workers who stitch together American garments.

Electrical wiring overloaded by sewing equipment is believed to have sparked the flames in the high-rise building. Dozens of workers, breaking for lunch at a make-shift canteen on the roof, were unable to descend smoke-filled stairwells and were trapped far out of reach of ladder trucks. The building, like most factories in Bangladesh, lacked fire escapes, sprinklers, and other modern safety equipment. As the flames intensified -- fueled by piles of clothes and fabric -- workers trying to flee said they found at least one of the factory's gates padlocked. Several were forced to fashion ropes from rolls of fabric to attempt to scale down the side of the building.

For weeks, ABC News tried to speak with executives at the Wisconsin-based Kohl's, a company that describes itself as "a family-focused, value-oriented specialty department store." The day before the news report aired, Kohl's responded to questions about factory safety conditions with a three-sentence written statement that noted the company had pledged a total of $37,500 to the relatives of the 29 workers who died.

"Kohl's has made a private donation to the humanitarian fund to help support the victims and their families affected by the tragic fire that occurred last year in Bangladesh," said Vicki Shamion, Kohl's senior vice president, community and public relations. "Our donation was equivalent to that of other U.S.-based retailers. We are committed to improving fire safety and continuing our discussions with the Global Works Foundations regarding participation in a Bangladesh fire safety project that they are planning."

Nova said he and other advocates are urging celebrities such as Hawk to do more to address the working conditions in Bangladesh.

"This is his clothing line, it's his name on the clothing, he makes the decision to license his name to a company like Kohl's, he has a responsibility to ensure that clothing is made under conditions that he personally finds acceptable," Nova said. "And obviously, as you can see from his comments here, he hasn't done that." 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio