Back in April, hundreds of workers died after a building collapse at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. In the wake of this tragedy, the Bangladesh Safety Accord was created, with the aim of ensuring safety for clothing manufacturer employers. It’s overseen by the United Nation’s International Labor Organization, and signees to the accord agree to regular factory inspections and improved safety measures and standards at factories that produce their garments.
But guess who’s not down to protect the lives of their factory workers? TopShop, that’s who. Since April, more than 80 companies have signed the accord, including H&M, Mango and even Abercrombie & Fitch. (You can check out the full list here.) TopShop agreed to sign in May, but has yet to actually take pen to paper — even after they were urged by the British government to do so in June. “TopShop’s bosses have got no excuse for not signing this agreement,” said Murray Worthy, of the anti-poverty group War on Want. “With their bumper profits, they can easily afford a tiny fraction of that to make their supplier factories safe. Their failure to act and to work with other UK high street retailers to make these factories safe leaves thousands of workers’ lives at risk.” The accord isn’t a fail-safe stop gap, and some even say that it doesn’t go far enough. But it’s a start.
For their part, Arcadia, the holding company of TopShop, said they’re still considering it, but movement has been slow. “Arcadia are in continued and detailed discussions with the Bangladesh Accord steering group,” said a spokesperson. “An Arcadia representative attended a [Department for International Development] round-table session on Bangladesh, and we are undertaking robust measures to ensure suppliers and factories we work with in Bangladesh are compliant with our own stringent code of conduct, whilst being fully supportive of industry initiatives.”
Of course, TopShop’s hardly the only non-signatory. Both Sears and Walmart are also conspicuously not on the list. Another big retail chain avoiding the accord: Forever 21, which is hardly surprising. The company has run into trouble for its sweatshop conditions as recently as 2012.
Yet, that hasn’t stopped Forever 21 from attempting to market its wares as”guilt-free” purchases. Yesterday, I received a PR email from a Forever 21 rep, announcing the company’s new, lower prices, designed to provide you with a “guilt-free” way of getting more stuff. “Forever 21 is excited to announce NEW, LOWER (under $10!!) price points on summer staples,” the email said. “Camis in every color starting at an irresistible $1.80, tanks at $2.80, leggings at $3.80 and body slimming skinny jeans in both sexy dark and breezy light washes at $7.80 are guilt free additions to the budget-conscious fashionista’s closet.”
I wrote them back and said that I thought it was a bit callous to claim that these new lower prices didn’t in fact have a price tag on them. But I think Winona said it best of all: