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As workers die, holding multinationals to account – italk

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http://www.euronews.com/ There has been plenty of soul searching and remorse in the wake of last month’s deadly tradegy at a Bangladesh clothing factory, but will there be any real long-term commitment to ensure such a disaster does not happen again?

Exploring the debate, euronews’ Isabelle Kumar spoke with Philip Jennings – the General Secretary of the UNI Global Union. It brings together 900 unions, representing 15 million workers worldwide, and has been pushing for moves to make the clothing industry safer and less exploitative.

*Isabelle Kumar, euronews:* “Phillip, we are in the grips of a recession, consumers are asking for cheaper and cheaper goods, we’ve already seen another factory collapse in Cambodia. Do you think you can ensure such a disaster doesn’t happen again?”

*Phillip Jennings:* “We’ve put together an agreement, UNI Global Union with another global union, IndustriALL. This is a partnership of manufacturing, and services, and the commerce sector. It is an accord on fire and factory safety in Bangladesh. This is an agreement with a difference. It is a legally binding, enforceable agreement. We have more than 40 of the major retail, global brands signed up to a legally binding agreement. This matters. This is different. And this is going to have an impact. And I say to all of those European consumers, even in the midst of a recession, even at a time of squeeze, are you prepared to pay a penny or a cent more to have the assurance of the products you are buying are not built on the exploitation of children, and of mothers, working in factory conditions that would be unacceptable to every single European Union citizen? We’ve had enough, they’ve had enough. And that’s why this agreement is in place – to change and make a new reality in Bangladesh and other countries.”

*Isabelle Kumar, euronews:* “Well, you say Bangladesh and other countries, but this agreement only implicates Bangladesh. Why didn’t you get retailers to sign up to an agreement in all of the countries they operate in?”

*Phillip Jennings:* “One of the issues we are going to have to discuss is how do we make this a broader-based agreement. But given the factory collapse, given the fact that more than 2,000 lives have been lost in Bangladesh, given that in Bangladesh this is a sector employing four million people in 4,000 factories, that was the critical issue. But help is coming and help is on the way for all of those other countries. I think it is inevitable that we broaden the discussion.”

*Isabelle Kumar:* “Let’s go to our first question, which comes from France.”

“Good morning, my name is Nicolas and I am French. Which big companies haven’t yet signed up to the safety accord for Bangladesh?”

*Isabelle Kumar:* “So you’ve had some big names signing up – H&M, Calvin Klein, Primark, Carrefour – but some notable absences. Who are they?”

*Phillip Jennings:* “The most notable absence is in the United States of America. We do have Abercrombie & Fitch, we have Calvin Klein, we have Tommy Hilfiger, and we have many other big, global names, but principally from the European Union countries, which is a very good thing. But the world’s largest supermarket chain is Walmart. They employ two million people. They are the supply-chain experts. They know how to squeeze every grain out of the supply-chain to reduce costs. They’ve refused, they’ve said they are going to do their own thing, they’re going to be their own judge and jury, they are the new flag of convenience to themselves in this process. And Gap as well. Gap likes to present itself as trendy, contemporary, responsible. I don’t know what is going on in Gap, but they’ve also refused to sign. They were holding out for a side-agreement, just for them, and we’ve simply refused.”

*Isabelle Kumar:* “The US National Retail Federation has said that the agreement you have worked upon lacks, and I quote here ‘common sense’. This is particularly problematic for the US, what do you say to that?”

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