August 09, 2014
Investors Pressure Ralph Lauren on Human Rights
by Robert Kropp
Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility attend annual shareowner meeting of
Ralph Lauren to support a resolution filed by the AFL-CIO requesting that the company conduct a
human rights risk assessment.
In April, 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100
workers and injuring more than 2,500. The tragedy is a reminder to corporations of their
responsibility to monitor human rights conditions in their supply chains, and address adverse
effects when they are discovered.
One year after the tragedy, a coalition
of 170 investors called for the implementation of "systemic reforms that will ensure worker
safety and welfare, and to adopt zero tolerance policies on global supply chain abuses."
"Acting alone, companies can and do bring about meaningful and positive changes in human rights
in the countries where they source and manufacture,” the investors stated. “But when faced with
intransigence of the type we have historically seen in Bangladesh on worker safety issues, we are
convinced that systemic change will only occur when companies take action together."
of the major clothing retailers in developed nations source garments from factories in Bangladesh,
and in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy many have joined the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a
legally binding agreement to ensure safe working conditions in the nation's garment industry. Thus
far over 180 companies from 20 countries have signed the Accord.
One prominent company
that has not signed the Accord is Ralph Lauren; instead, management told shareowners at its recent
annual general meeting that “they prefer to ‘go it alone.’”
At the meeting, while unions
and religious organizations rallied outside, the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund introduced a resolution
calling on Ralph Lauren to conduct a human rights assessment. Pointing out that by the company’s
own account more than 98% of its products are manufactured outside the US, the resolution goes on
to state, “This extensive supply chain network can expose Ralph Lauren to human rights risks
through the products that it produces.”
The resolution was presented by Nazma Akter, a
former garment worker in Bangladesh who has since become a leader of that country’s worker rights
movement. “There are over 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh,” Akter said. “So far, 1,600 are
covered by the accord and workers in these are better protected. Workers have a union at only 160
of those thousands of factories. Workers at factories covered by the Accord and those who have a
union could have refused to enter Rana Plaza when they saw cracks. Workers must have Freedom of
Association to protect themselves and claim their full human rights.”
“Why has a company
that has always stood for the highest quality not joined the accord?” she asked.
at the demonstration outside the meeting was Rev. David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).
Accord on Fire and Building Safety is the best solution to help prevent future workplace disasters
in Bangladesh and to foster a culture of compliance and respect for international human rights
norms,” he said. “The Accord guarantees that global brands and retailers can source apparel
manufactured in factories with adequate health and safety standards and where international labor
rights are respected.”
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