Which companies are on which list?
The lists are fluid as companies continue to sign on to one agreement or the other (which is one reason that I have delayed in writing this post, because it could be out of date as soon as it is posted). To get current lists of companies, go to:
It is important to remember that sometimes one company owns many brands. As an example, Gap owns Old Navy and Banana Republic. Carter's owns Osh Kosh B'gosh. VF, which I had never heard of, owns dozens of brands (including Lee, Wrangler, the North Face, JanSport, Nautica, Timberland and more). I've put together some quick reference graphics to help you identify which brands to avoid (signatories of the Walmart/Gap agreement) and which ones to support (signatories of the binding Accord). However, this is not a complete list of the brands and it is worth doing your research if you are unsure. Most of the members of the Walmart/Gap agreement are North American companies and I've tried to include as many of those as possible. In the case of the Accord, many of them are international brands that are not available in North America (the main area of my readership) and rather than trying to include all of them in the graphic, I've focused on the brands that I know are available in North America (but you can access the full list via the link ).
There is one company that is a member of the Accord that I didn't include on the graphic. That is the United Colors of Benetton. Benetton signed the Accord in May 2013 under pressure, but Benetton has not disclosed all of its suppliers to the Accord and has not paid compensation to the Rana Plaza victims. It will be interesting to see if Benetton steps up or if any action is taken to remove Benetton from the Accord if they don't. Also, to give a sense of the movement on the issue, as of the writing of this post Fruit of the Loom was listed as being part of both agreements, likely because it signed the Walmart agreement earlier and then later decided to be part of the Accord (which it signed in December 2013 ).
What about brands that aren't on either list?
I've had friends say "What about Ann Taylor? I love their clothing, but I don't want to shop there if they are hurting people." Personally, I've always loved Roots products, even when they moved some of their production overseas. But when a company isn't on either list, it can be hard to figure out if they are doing things right or doing things wrong. Not having signed the Accord could mean that the company doesn't source products in Bangladesh and therefore has no need to sign it or it could mean that the company isn't willing to make a commitment. In the case of Roots, I did some digging and found a Toronto Star article where they (and other companies) answered some questions about how their products are sourced and they did not include Bangladesh on the list of countries that they source from. In the case of Ann Taylor, information on their website indicates that they are working on various projects in collaboration with quality organizations like the International Labor Organization and are funding projects in factories in Bangladesh to support women's health. Those are positive stories, but I wanted to get some objective information as well and couldn't find any. I do wonder why Ann Inc. wouldn't have signed onto the Accord and if I bought a lot of clothing from them, this is probably something that I would write to the company about. Patagonia is an example of a company that is well known for sustainable sourcing of clothing and they do source from a factory in Bangladesh, but are not part of either agreement. Given their track record overall, I would tend to support Patagonia despite them not being signatories of the Accord until I see some direct reason not to (i.e. a problem at one of their factories).
Does this mean that you can never shop at Target, Costco, Kohl's, Macy's or The Bay?
One of the interesting things that jumps out when looking at these two lists is that there are a lot of brands on the "good" list that are distributed via stores on the "bad" list. I know that I've bought Calvin Klein clothing at both The Bay and Costco, for example. Whether you avoid good brands in stores that have signed the toothless agreement is a personal decision. On the one hand, you should feel comfortable that those clothes were not made under unsafe conditions or at least that the supplier is committed to making the conditions as safe as possible. But on the other hand, do you want to contribute financially to a company that has said it doesn't really care about making a real commitment? It is a hard choice, especially if
you are on a limited income living in an area with limited choice.
Personally, the decision that I've made is that I'll avoid buying the Kirkland brand clothing (Costco's in-house brand) at the Costco stores, but I'd still buy Calvin Klein clothing there or support other things they are doing right (e.g. helping innovative organic products reach a wider market, selling a large variety of local Quebec products, selling recycled and biodegradable products in bulk that we have trouble getting elsewhere, etc.). I'm not going to support their production of clothing in potentially unsafe environments, but I will try to encourage them in the things they are doing right by supporting those products.
With some other stores, the decision is more clean cut. I was already a Walmart avoider before the Bangladesh factory fires and collapse and now I simply do not go into their stores unless I have no other option (there have been times when they were the only store that had winter boots left in February, unfortunately). When it comes to stores that only sell clothing that is potentially made in unsafe conditions (e.g. Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic), there is absolutely no reason for me to purchase from them anymore. I used to buy a lot of clothing from those brands and I went from a big supporter to a boycotter almost overnight when I heard that Gap would not support safe working environments in Bangladesh.
What About Victim Compensation?
I think that a lot of companies were caught off guard by the devastating tragedies in Bangladesh in the past few years. I don't think that is a good excuse for letting it happen and I don't think that consumers should accept willful ignorance as a get out of jail free card. However, I am choosing to look primarily at what companies are doing to change and to move forward. That means that I want to know that they are taking all possible steps to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again, but it also means providing compensation to the victims. A Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund has been established to help compensate victims of the factory collapse. A list of the donor companies is available on the Rana Plaza Arrangement's website. However, the Clean Clothes Initiative points out that many companies have not paid anything at all or haven't paid their fair share .
In terms of Loblaws, a Canadian company that sources much of its Joe Fresh clothing in Bangladesh, the CBC recently did a follow-up report. On its website, CBC states :
As part of its compensation package following the collapse, Loblaw paid three months wages to survivors who were making Joe Fresh clothes, about $150 per worker.
It also recently donated $3 million to a compensation trust fund to help injured workers and the families of deceased workers.
And the company told the fifth estate it contributed $1 million to two organizations working to help survivors, Save the Children Bangladesh and the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed.
The fifth estate has learned that Loblaw has recently hired one person to oversee its growing operations in Bangladesh. Last year, it had no one on the ground in Bangladesh to monitor its operations there or inspect the factories it uses.
I've asked the Clean Clothes Initiative to clarify how much it is calling on companies to contribute and I will update this section with more information if I receive a reply from them. Overall, they say that 1/3 of the required funds has been collected, but they haven't indicated how much of the remaining amount they are asking each company to contribute.
Is worker safety in Bangladesh the only ethical issue when buying clothing?
No, of course worker safety in Bangladesh isn't the only ethical issue that people should consider when they are buying clothing. This is just one aspect of corporate social responsibility in the garment industry. Where their materials come from, what ingredients are in those materials, how much their workers are paid, what their environmental impact is, whether they treat their employees with respect, and many other issues can and should come into play when making purchasing decisions. But when it comes to purchasing or promoting "Made in Bangladesh" clothing, understanding a brand's status under these agreements is a life or death situation.
This is a complicated issue that is continuing to evolve on a daily basis. A year has now passed since the Rana Plaza factory collapse and there are still new developments all the time. I try to stay on top of what is happening, but I can't cover absolutely everything in one blog post.
If anyone has questions or issues that they'd like to discuss further, please drop a note in the comments and I'd be happy to follow-up.
I would also suggest that you follow the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Bangladesh Accord (their social media links are available from their websites).