Speaking Out for Those Who Labor for Us
By Social Responsibility Team, Mercy Investment Services
A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. — Albert Einstein
The 1,129 people who died in the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh this spring remind us that depending on the labor of others also means sharing in their tragedies. While we cannot give in the same measure that they have given, our reaction to this tragedy matters very much to the 3.5 million people, 80% of whom are young women, who still work in Bangladesh’s garment industry.
How can we respond to the deadly record of Bangladeshi factories? Where do we start when an entire industry needs to be reformed? One starting point for Mercy Investment Services has been the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (the Accord). Through the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Mercy is part of a global coalition of more than 200 investors who support the Accord and encourage companies to sign on. This summer, more than 70 companies, predominantly from Europe, signed on to and began implementing the Accord, which provides a framework for supplier disclosure, independent inspection, factory upgrades and worker rights.
A recent New York Times article examined the complex process of inspections and the unethical practices that have investors concerned over workers’ safety and well-being. We as investors support the Accord because it encourages companies to stay in Bangladesh and invest in improving conditions. It gives workers a voice by involving unions as well as management, and it is both legally and financially binding for companies. It is precisely that enforceability that has made some U.S. companies balk at joining. Companies like Gap, Target, and Wal-Mart have not signed the Accord and are pushing for a weaker agreement called the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative (the Initiative), which only has participants from North America, lacks worker involvement and is not binding on signatories. Through ICCR, Mercy has spoken out against the Initiative and in favor of the Accord.
In addition to our work on the Accord, Mercy Investment Services is in dialogue with Target on supply chain issues in Bangladesh and is planning to engage other designers and retailers in the coming year. As investors, we will continue to add our voice to those calling for reform in Bangladesh’s garment industry and to support the fair treatment of all workers.