The growing cadre of retailers signing on to accords meant to address the safety issues in the Bangladesh garment industry now includes American Eagle Outfitters, the teen clothing retailer headquartered on Pittsburgh's South Side.
American Eagle has chosen to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which is backed by the International Labor Rights Forum and binds companies to practices such as having independent safety inspections with public reports, mandating factory building renovations with retailers required to help underwrite the cost of repairs, and allowing a role for workers and their unions.
The accord has been agreed to by more than 70 retailers, spurred on by the international outrage over the April factory collapse in Bangladesh where more than 1,000 workers were killed.
American Eagle announced its move on the company's Facebook page Thursday evening, and by mid-afternoon Friday the company's post had received almost 2,000 likes along with dozens of comments debating the issue.
Unite Here, an American affiliate of international unions IndustriALL and UNI, had been collecting petitions to try to get the teen clothing retailer to join the pact and it handed out fliers at about 40 American Eagle stores in the past month, according to a release from the union and the International Labor Rights Forum on Friday.
"While AEO has a long record of safety in Bangladesh and we were not involved in any of the factory tragedies that occurred there, we felt a moral obligation to not only be a part of this rising tide of change but a leader in the advancement of workers rights and workplace safety," the company's post said.
American Eagle is not participating in a separate initiative taking a different approach to the issues -- one announced earlier this week by retailers such as Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Sears, Gap and Nordstrom -- but the Pittsburgh retailer said it supports that effort.
"We also applaud retailers who have launched the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety," the statement on Facebook said. "All of us share the same goals of improving factory working conditions to ensure workers' safety in Bangladesh, and we hope that both initiatives can come together to accomplish these goals to make a difference."
Work on the fire and building safety accord began about two years ago, said Liana Foxvog, director of organizing for the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based workers advocacy coalition. A deadly factory fire in December 2010 raised awareness of the problems.
The accord, which was written so that implementation would not start until at least four companies had signed on, was initially signed by PVH Corp., which owns brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, in April 2012, Ms. Foxvog said.
German retailer Tchibo followed in September 2012, she said, but those were the only signatories when the tragedy occurred this spring.
Now that dozens of retailers, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Benetton, H&M, Marks & Spencer and Sean John Apparel, have agreed to participate, implementation should start this month, Ms. Foxvog said. The participating companies, which come from at least 15 countries, work with as many as 1,000 factories in Bangladesh, she said.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or 412-263-2018. First Published July 12, 2013 4:45 PM