Dems divided over US corporate response to Bangladesh factory tragedy

The conflicting assessments come after Wal-Mart, Gap, Target and other U.S. companies announced they were signing on to a proposal facilitated by former Sens. George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The agreement calls on the companies to fund inspections of all member factories, develop common safety standards and share inspection results.

“I welcome the efforts by leading North American retailers and Senators Mitchell and Snowe to come together and take decisive action to help improve factory safety conditions in Bangladesh,” said Menendez, whose panel held a hearing on the issue last month. “The creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is an important first step toward addressing the dismal plight of Bangladeshi garment workers.”

Levin and Miller however said the plan competes with a stricter agreement signed by 72 major brands and retailers from 15 countries around the world, including several from the United States. They said the new plan adopts the “rhetoric” of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh “but not its critical elements.”

“The Accord, among other things, obligates its members to make the necessary funds available to fix unsafe factories. The Wal-Mart/Gap-led plan … does not,” they said in a statement. “The Accord is fully-enforceable. The Alliance plan, on the other hand, appears to have only one aspect subject to binding arbitration, namely the commitment to make an annual pay-in.”

Bangladesh has come under international pressure to improve its worker-safety standards in the wake of the accident. Last month, the Obama administration suspended the country's trade privileges.

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