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."
ABC News producer Robert Rudman contributed to this report. Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.