Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing brand owned by Fast Retailing, won't join a legally-binding pact to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry, the company announced on Monday. Uniqlo is probably best-known in New York, where their ads are pretty much everywhere. But the company's decision mirrors that of many well-known American brands, including Walmart, JC Penny, Sears, and the Gap.
As we've explained before, the agreement requires retail companies to finance and support some basic safety and labor rights overhauls for the world's second largest exporter of garments. The pact has been around for years, but it was only after the disastrous factory collapse in Bangladesh, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people, that enough companies signed on to give it any weight. It's designed to put pressure on factory owners, who were literally getting away with murder in the country thanks to a cozy relationship with Bangladesh's government.
Most of the 30 companies who've signed on to the agreement — including Uniqlo competitor H&M — are European. So Fast Retailing joins the American brands in saying "thanks, but no," pledging to improve conditions in their production factories independently, without a pesky legal agreement getting in the way. Here's the Wall Street Journal, who first reported the news, explaining:
"We want to first focus on what we can do right now, on our own," said Yukihiro Nitta, head of Fast Retailing's Corporate Social Responsibility group. He said the company also will hire a Japanese company to assess the soundness of its suppliers' factories in Bangladesh. Ultrasound and X-ray technology can be used to check for cracks in concrete and piping and to analyze construction materials used.
Despite apparent litigation fears among many American companies, Abercombie & Fitch and PVC Corp, whose brands include Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have signed the agreement.