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AFT leaders urge Gap Inc. to sign fire safety accord

In the aftermath of the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 garment workers, AFT president Randi Weingarten, eight AFT local leaders and one Canadian union leader have written to Gap Inc., urging the clothing retailer to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

"The 1.6 million members of the American Federation of Teachers are consumers who believe that companies have ethical and moral duties in the conduct of their worldwide business," the letter says. "Our members are also investors, and through various state teacher and other public employee retirement funds, as well as other plans we participate in, our shareholding in Gap Inc. is valued at more than $500 million."

(Read an AFT press release about the letter to Gap.)

Thus far, 40 international apparel manufacturers have signed on to the accord. Gap has not, and that failure to act puts it in the company of other nonsigners like Wal-Mart, Sears, J.C. Penney and the Children's Place. Gap's holdings include the brands Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta and Piperlime.

Bangladesh is one of many countries where workers' rights exist under law, but where enforcement is lax or nonexistent. The April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory is one of the worst workplace disasters in history. Substandard construction and the unwillingness of managers to heed workers' continued warnings about the building were to blame. The collapse is the latest in a series of industrial catastrophes that have befallen Bangladesh workers, including deadly fires and factory riots.

"Companies outsource apparel work to developing countries because of their cheap labor, but that does not give them license to ignore safety measures and put workers' lives at risk," Weingarten said shortly after the accident. "Investors and shoppers should consider the corporate values and responsibilities of clothing stores and brand names—especially those that have not signed the accord." (See earlier press release.)

The local leaders who co-signed the letter come from states that have vested interests through their employee retirement funds, as well as Canada. They include Melissa Cropper, Ohio Federation of Teachers; Andy Ford, Florida Education Association; Dr. Calvin Fraser, Canadian Teachers' Federation; Richard Iannuzzi, New York State United Teachers; Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Ted Kirsch, AFT Pennsylvania; Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT; David J. Quolke, Cleveland Teachers Union; and Brenda Smith, AFT Colorado.

Read the letter. [Barbara McKenna, Eric Duncan]

June 11, 2013