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Bangladesh Activists Can Learn From Greenpeace: Two Campaigns, Two Outcomes

In the wake of two tragic factory fires in Bangladesh’s garment industry, the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (BFBSA) has joined with humanitarian and activists group to call textile and garment business leaders to action. Their demands–that major apparel buyers sign an agreement to meet specific safety and transparency standards in their factories–have been outright rejected by Wal-Mart, Gap, and H&M, and they have yet to secure a single signature.

In a recent op-ed, just-style’s Mike Flanagan compared the BFBSA’s crusade to a more successful campaign carried out by Greenpeace, which called for major brands and retailers to join its “Detox Challenge”–a call for these brands to eliminate the discharge of toxic chemicals from their products supply chains by 2020. After Greenpeace published a report detailing the toxic waste created in Nike, H&M, and Adidas factories, all three companies not only accepted the challenge, but started their own ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) consortium, which has since been joined by a long list of retailers. 

So what can the fledgling BFBSA learn from the more experienced Greenpeace? According to Flanagan, Greenpeace did the following things right:

– Strategy–Greenpeace targeted the most likely joiners first, which encouraged more reluctant companies. BFBSA, on the other hand, has doggedly pursued Wal-Mart, despite the company’s firm rejection and their lack of influence.
– Message–Greenpeace garnered mainstream media attention for the Detox Challenge with buzz-worthy events, while the BFBSA has aimed their message primarily at the activist community, effectively preaching to the choir.
– Attack the sin, not the sinner–Greenpeace avoided demonizing the companies it wanted cooperation from, opting instead to focus on specific practices. The BFBSA, unfortunately, has vilified corporate leaders–it’s no surprise they’re reluctant to sign.
– Understand your target’s motivation–The BFBSA has criticized their target retailers for making too much money, which, Flanagan points out, can’t be realistically expected to change. Greenpeace, on the other hand, stressed the financial disadvantage of a toxic supply chain, which was much more persuasive.
– Propose an achievable program–Greenpeace worked with targets to set reasonable objectives, timescales and milestones. BFBSA, according to Flanagan, has wasted two years on a program that was rejected from the beginning.