Remake says Levi’s is ignoring garment workers’ demands for safer work environments.
The advocacy organization staged a demonstration outside Levi’s flagship in Times Square Friday to bring awareness to the denim giant’s refusal to sign the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, a successor to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
The protest was accompanied by an email campaign. Remake said more than 400 emails from its “global community” have been sent Liz O’Neill, Levi Strauss & Co. COO, and Anna Walker, Levi Strauss & Co. VP of public affairs, calling on them to sign the Accord.
The Accord is a 26-month, legally binding agreement between brands, retailers and trade unions to elevate safety in ready-made garment (RMG) and textile factories. Signatories commit to disclosing their RMG factory lists, require their factories to participate in inspections, remediation and workplace programs, and negotiate with suppliers to ensure maintaining safe workplaces is financially feasible. As of May, the Accord has 175 signatories spanning AEO Inc., G-Star Raw, Pepe Jeans and PVH Corp.
Demonstrators entered the Levi’s store carrying signs and delivered a letter to the management. Bangladeshi trade union leader Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and president of Bangladesh Garment & Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), and Workers United Secretary-Treasurer Edgar Romney joined the protest.
“Levi’s is dangerously behind the curve when it comes to making garment factories safe places to work,” Akter said. “Levi’s has decided to pursue a voluntary approach to factory safety, which we know from many years of experience does not work. It is well past time for Levi’s to sign the Accord and ensure the safety of their workers.”
Levi’s did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Remake reports that Levi’s sources from at least 21 factories in Bangladesh, including one Accord member factory. The nonprofit says the company is “ultimately free-riding off the Accord” without contributing to it.
“Levi’s says its own worker safety program is effective, and yet we know from Rana Plaza that voluntary, brand-led worker safety programs are lethal,” said Elizabeth Cline, advocacy and policy director at Remake. “Every day that Levi’s refuses to sign, garment workers’ lives are on the line and their demands are ignored.”
Levi’s has previously been targeted by labor campaigners. In November, the Clean Clothes Campaign said it was “high time that Levi’s starts to take responsibility for the safety of the workers in its supply chain and contributes financially to making factories safer.” The nonprofit’s April report claimed that several of Levi’s Bangladeshi suppliers have lingering safety issues including fire risks that could be amended with support from the brand.
Levi’s argues that it has been prioritizing worker safety through its supplier code of conduct and terms of engagement since 1991. It says it has continued to pour resources into initiatives that will “make the biggest difference for the workers in our supply chain, adapting policies and practices as needed.”
“In Bangladesh, we have built a 20-year record of worker safety,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal last year. “We did not have production in any of the facilities where tragedies have occurred over that time span, and in 2009, we forbade working with suppliers operating in multi-level, multi-owner buildings, where safety standards are difficult to enforce.”
Levi’s added that it requires all its suppliers in Bangladesh to undergo third-party electrical safety audits and building integrity audits, and it was among the first brands to expand those same guidelines to countries such as Cambodia and Pakistan.