Union Protests to Target Gap over Bangladesh Worker Safety

"Gap Inc. takes our commitment to improving working conditions in Bangladesh seriously, and we have taken action where we can make a direct impact," the company said in a statement emailed to ABC News. "Gap Inc. implemented last October a four-point plan that includes up to $22 million in assistance to workers and to improve fire safety at the selected factories that produce our products. In fact, we have independent fire inspectors working in Bangladesh right now who have identified improvements that can be made at the factories with which we work."

Labor organizers said they believe the Gap plan falls short.

"Someone at first glance who is not familiar with building and safety code issues might think it looks decent," Foxvog said. "But it's non-transparent, non-binding."

Unlike such major brands as H&M, Nike and Adidas, she said, Gap's plan does not identify factories in Bangladesh where the company does business.

Foxvog also criticized the plan for failing to make public any safety problems its inspectors discover, saying it could leave workers in the dark about the dangers they are facing. It also does not enable outsiders to verify that Gap is taking concrete steps to put in place even basic safety precautions such as enclosed stairwells, unlocked exits and fire escapes, she said.

In addition to the unions and other advocates for garment workers, federal officials have also urged major clothing retailers to work together to improve conditions. The State Department convened a conference call with the brands in response to the deadly building collapse, saying, "the tragedy at Rana Plaza once again underscores the urgent need for government, owners, buyers, and labor organizations to work together to improve labor safety and the lives of working people in Bangladesh."

"Both the United States and Bangladesh have a shared interest in ensuring that the growth of Bangladesh's export sector does not come at the expense of safe and healthy working conditions or fundamental labor rights," said the State Department statement released Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) also urged the Obama administration to intervene. In a letter to the president, Miller wrote that "the mounting death toll in Bangladesh's garment industry, with the collapse last week of the Rana Plaza, underscores the clear need for immediate action to address the crisis in working conditions and worker rights in that country."

In the aftermath of the building collapse with its massive death toll, discussions between retailers and labor groups have resumed. Foxvog said the retailers identified May 15 as the date where they will make a decision on a new draft agreement that would require the brands change the way they do business in Bangladesh. Foxvog said the protests are intended to push Gap to sign the deal.

"If Gap is unwilling to do the right thing it will be hard to get others to get on board," Foxvog said. "If we can get Gap to agree to the same type of agreement that then other companies would get on board as well."

Gap officials said they, too, are hoping for an agreement that involves all of the major retailers.

"Gap Inc. has participated in numerous discussions with a broad base of stakeholders, and we are hopeful there is momentum in bringing parties together to achieve lasting change," the company said.

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