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All In
updated 5/17/2013 12:48:03 AM ET 2013-05-17T04:48:03

More than a dozen European brands have joined a factory safety pact, but a Who's Who of American companies has declined. Here's why.

The death toll from the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry–the collapse last month of the factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh–is over 1,100. The horror intensified pressure on garment retailers to take responsibility for their workplaces overseas.

In response, more than a dozen European retailers and brands, including H&M and Benetton, have signed on to a groundbreaking agreement that requires them to pay for rigorous independent inspections of their factories and for safety upgrades–including basics such as fire escapes, which many currently lack.

Of American companies, so far only Abercombie & Fitch and PVC Corp, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have signed on. Giant clothing retailers like Walmart, Gap, JCPenney and Target have so far declined to join in, apparently out of fear that they could be taken to court in the U.S. by labor groups and others.

Gap has said it would consider signing if the accord’s language on arbitration was changed. Walmart said it would conduct its own in-depth inspections of 100% of its factories in Bangladesh.

But a non-independent inspection–by an engineer who pointed out dangerous cracks in the Rana Plaza building–didn’t close the dangerous facility in Bangladesh.

The issue is not wages, said Chris Hayes on All In on Thursday. It’s basic safety: “making sure a building doesn’t fall on top of you and kill you.”

Video: American retailers snub new safety agreement for Bangladesh workers

  1. Closed captioning of: American retailers snub new safety agreement for Bangladesh workers

    >>> history of the garment industry continues to unfold in bangladesh , a who's who list of well known american brands say they won't sign on to a new agreement that would improve safety standards for workers. over 1,100 people have died following the collapse of the plaza which held several garment factories in a suburb of the capital city of dhaka. the plaza was built on a swamp without proper permits. according to the country's chief engineer , three of its stories were added illegally. people knew the plaza was unsafe before it collapsed. yet thousands of people came to work that day, many pressured by their employers regardless of the dire conditions. in the aftermath of the tragedy, bangladesh now finds itself mired in complete, total social and political upheaval. earlier this week reports of as many as 300 factories near dhaka were temporarily shuttered due to worker unrest. late last week a woman was pulled out of the rubble alive after being trapped for 17 days . i never dreamed i'd see the daylight again, she told local tv . she's one of the lucky ones . the righteous and deserved rage from all corners of bangladesh and around the world has intensified pressure on clothing retailers prompting some global brands to sign ton a landmark groundbreaking international safety pact. the plan requires companies to have rigorous independent inspections and to help pay for fire safety upgrades which many factories still lack. more than two dozen european retailers and brands have signed on to the agreement, including h & m , but only two american companies , abercrombie & fitch as well as the parent company of calvin klein and tommy hilfiger have joined them. from the signs of it other major u.s. clothing chains from walmart to gap to target won't be supporting the effort any time soon. why? well, the retailers believe the agreement would give labor groups and others the powers to take them to court. matthew shay of the natural federal retail federation says the accord exposes american companies to a legally questionable binding arbitration provision, a process that serves only the unions, not the workers they represent. gap says it won't join the pact as long as it is legally binding . scott nova of the workers right consortium -- gap's demand is that the agreement be made meaningful. gap. wants the right to renege on its commitments when it wishes. in a country like bangladesh which is massively dependent on the garment industry this kind of split among retailers could undermine the effectiveness of any kind of safety pact. in the meantime, walmart has a different solution. that company says its factory monitors would conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100% of its bangladesh facilities and make them public. in other words the company would go it alone and conduct its own inspections. the plaza itself conducted its own inspections as well. in fact, the day before the building collapsed the owner of the plaza brought in an engineer to take a look at a few troubling developments in the building's infrastructure. here's what he found.

    >> this video filmed by a local television channel shows large cracks in the walls of the building which housed garment factories and a shopping center that may have hinted at a disaster to come.

    >> those are cracks in the building that the engineers saw before it collapsed. as "the new york times" reported the engineer examined three support pillars and concluded the building needed to be closed immediately. the owner of the plaza disagreed with the assessment an the next morning people reported to work and the building collapsed. self-inspection didn't seem to make much after difference. there is a clear moral case for these companies, gap and walmart and target and others, to take the most basic measures -- not only in bangladesh but in factories all around the world to just ensure the basic safety of workers to prerent them from being crushed to death. we're not even talking about wages here. we're just talking about making sure a building doesn't fall on top of you and kill you. thousands of people, moms and dads, brothers and sisters , neighbors and friends and loved ones . there is an obvious and irrefutable moral case for these companies to do that but even if these companies don't care about that there is a business and reputational case for these companies to take enforceable serious measures as well because if and when another horrible tragedy like this happens in another factory churning out clothes for gap or walmart or any other american brand we all know an wear, if it turns out they had a chance to fix the problem and didn't take it and there are more deaths and disaster than the blood on their hand is going to stain every last shirt they sell.

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