NYC Comptroller Supports Asian Textile Workers

 Former factory worker Nazma Akter, left, now represents Bangladeshi laborers full time. She presented the proposal on behalf of AFL-CIO calling for Ralph Lauren Corporation to  conduct a "human rights risk assessment" and sign the Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety. With her is Rev. David M. Schilling, the Senior Program Director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a shareholder coalition which supports the proposal. (Photo by Jennifer Lehman for Voices of NY)

Former factory worker Nazma Akter, left, now represents Bangladeshi laborers full time. She presented the proposal on behalf of AFL-CIO calling for Ralph Lauren Corporation to conduct a “human rights risk assessment” and sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. With her is Rev. David M. Schilling, the senior program director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a shareholder coalition which supports the proposal. (Photo by Jennifer Lehman for Voices of NY)

The plight of Bangladeshi and other Asian textile workers made the agenda at the Ralph Lauren Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting on August 7 at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

A proposal submitted by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund, calling on Ralph Lauren Corporation to make a human rights assessment of its labor and supply practices and to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, was endorsed by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer who is the investment advisor, custodian, and trustee of the city’s $160 billion in pension funds. The funds hold 147,321 record-date Ralph Lauren shares worth $23 million.

“I wanted to second this proposal because it’s significant that we weigh in on worker safety issues, especially in Bangladesh given the 1,200 who lost their lives,” Stringer said referring to the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza commercial building in 2013. He added that Ralph Lauren’s decision not to join the Accord impacts the health of the company and thus its value.

Nazma Akter, a Bangledeshi labor organizer who’s the president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, presented the AFL-CIO proposal at the meeting.

The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is a legally binding agreement signed by more than 150 apparel companies from 20 countries that commit to independent inspections, public reports and the funding of repairs.

Only a handful of American companies have signed the accord, including Abercrombie & Fitch and PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

Many North American companies like Gap, Target, Sears and Nordstrom are part of the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety, started in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy last year. Critics say that the Alliance does not have the legal teeth of the Accord.

The Ralph Lauren Corporation has declined to join both the Alliance and the Accord, although it is a member of the Better Work program, yet another safety and labor compliance group that is slated to begin a program in Bangladesh. The clothing manufacturer said in a statement that it began increasing the frequency of its factory monitoring and training in 2012, and now includes audits of building and fire safety. Products manufactured in Bangladesh represent less than three percent of the company’s annual volume.

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