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Rescue workers look for trapped garment workers in the Rana Plaza building which collapsed, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 24, 2013. A block housing garment factories and shops collapsed in Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 peopl
American and European retailers whose clothing brands were manufactured in Bangladesh's Rana Plaza before it collapsed face what should not be a difficult question: Will they respond to the tragedy by compensating the survivors and families of the more than 400 killed in the collapse and investing in safety improvements, or will they refuse to accept responsibility?

Companies walking away from the victims and insisting that safety isn't any of their business include the Children's Place, Cato, and Benetton. Cato and the Children's Place are claiming it's not their problem because they didn't have clothes being manufactured at the very moment of the collapse, even though the Children's Place had received 120,000 pounds of clothing from its supplier at Rana Plaza over the past eight months, while Cato had received 90,000 pounds since November. Benetton, meanwhile, only admitted that it had anything to do with Rana Plaza after its labels were found in the wreckage, and is now saying that it has no responsibility to the workers because it was a one-time order.

How's that for corporate responsibility? If you were a regular customer whose clothes just happened not to be in the building at the time, you declare yourself not involved. If your clothes were in the building but you weren't a regular customer, you declare yourself not involved. Not every retailer that had clothes made at Rana Plaza is taking such a low road, though:

Primark, a low-price British retailer, quickly acknowledged that one of its suppliers had occupied the second floor of the eight-story building. Primark has pledged to compensate victims who worked for its supplier and their families, saying compensation would include long-term aid for children who lost parents, financial aid for the injured and payments to the families of the deceased. [...]

Loblaw, a Canadian discount chain, and El Corte Inglés, a prominent Spanish retailer, have also pledged to participate in a compensation fund.

The other pressing question is what will be done to prevent future catastrophes like the Rana Plaza collapse and the fire at Tazreen Fashions that killed more than 100 in November. The parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein and a German retailer have both agreed to a proposal to have retailers pay for needed fire and safety improvements and support independent inspections. But other companies, including Walmart and the Gap, have to this point refused to participate. Those and other companies met again this week. So again the question is which companies will do the right thing and pay their share of the most basic fire and safety protections, costs that should already be built into what they are paying to have garments manufactured but are not, all so Walmart and the Gap and Sears and Benetton can save us those extra pennies per garment while still ensuring that the Walton family and their counterparts have enough money to put freight trains full of cash into corporate education policy and art museums and other things they prioritize above the lives of Bangladeshi workers.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed May 01, 2013 at 08:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Invisible People, and Daily Kos.

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