Trillium News

Diverse Coalition of Global Investors Managing More Than $1.5 Trillion Calls for Systemic Reforms to End Human Rights Abuses in Apparel Supply Chains



As a First Step, Investors Urge Manufacturers and Retailers to Join the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety

NEW YORK, Wednesday, May 22, 2013 – Concerned that human rights catastrophes like the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh might recur if sweeping reforms aren’t promptly implemented, a global coalition of institutional investors are calling on apparel manufacturers and retailers to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

The investor group includes nearly 200 signatories from 16 countries in North America, Europe and Australia with combined assets valued at over 1.5 trillion $U.S. The statement was drafted by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility along with Boston Common Asset Management, Domini Social Investments LLC, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Trillium Asset Management.

The statement has been sent to several U.S. apparel manufacturers and retailers that the investors have historically engaged on supply chain issues. It is an urgent call to action for companies and the sector to act in coalition to enact system-wide reforms to prevent future loss of life due to unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Said Rev. Seamus Finn of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, “Rana Plaza was an unprecedented workplace disaster, and a tragedy we truly believe could have been avoided. The industry needs a global standard and solution lest what happened in Dhaka happens five years from now in another country. Many European companies have already joined the Accord and we want to ensure that the momentum continues here in the U.S.”

On Tuesday, the investors also sent the statement to five North American apparel trade associations including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Canadian Apparel Federation, National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, along with a letter that stated, in part: We believe that (trade association) has a pivotal role to play in promoting the kinds of systemic changes that must occur in Bangladesh and other low-cost sourcing countries if human rights are to be adequately protected.

Believing that price is driving a “race to the bottom”, one of the key requests the investors support is an industry commitment to strengthening local trade unions and ensuring a living wage for all garment factory workers.

“When the drive to deliver goods faster and cheaper puts lives at risk it’s time to step back and review the morality and soundness of the current model,” said David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. “For over 15 years we have been challenging apparel brands and retailers totake the high road by insisting on a living wage, benefits and workplace safety. Rana Plaza makes it abundantly clear that systemic reforms are needed.”

Added Jonas Kron of Trillium Asset Management, “Had the factory workers in Rana Plaza been able to organize effectively to speak to managers about workplace health and safety concerns, this tragedy may never have occurred. Empowering workers through local, democratic trade unions as a means to detect and remediate concerns is central to healthy supply chain management and human rights due diligence.”

The broad coalition of investors includes Aviva Investors (UK), the AFL-CIO, Batirente (Canada), Calvert Investments, the Church of Sweden, Etablissement de Retraite Additionnelle de la Fonction Publique (France), the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership and the first, third and fourth Swedish National pension funds.

Said Bennett Freeman of Calvert Investments, “Calvert has a long-standing history of stakeholder engagement with global apparel bands calling for reliable and transparent safety auditing throughout supply chains. The legal liability issues cited by U.S. companies must be resolved quickly in order for the Accord to have the widest and deepest impact.”

Highlighting the fact that the statement was only distributed for signatures one week ago, Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management said, “The speed with which we were able to assemble this coalition is a measure of the seriousness of these issues and the urgent need for strong responses to address them. Investors worldwide are in agreement that worker safety and welfare must come first and, further, that the sector must act in unison to make the necessary investments and to implement the necessary safeguards.”

Adam Kanzer of Domini Social Investments observed, “Investors have witnessed one preventable disaster after another in corporate supply chains. The old compliance models are not working and the Accord for Fire and Building Safety offers a path forward. Companies have failed in their obligation to ensure humane working conditions for the people that make their products, and investors have failed to hold those companies accountable. The global race to the bottom must end here, in the ruins of Rana Plaza.”

Susana McDermott
Director of Communications, ICCR

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR):
Currently celebrating its 42nd year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of active shareholders who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for change. Its 300 member organizations with over $100 billion in AUM have an enduring record of corporate engagement that has demonstrated influence on policies promoting justice and sustainability in the world.


View PDF of Press Release here