Kmart has become the second retail company based in Australia to commit to signing the International Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
The decision comes on the back of concerns expressed by the community, government, regulators, media and advocacy groups after the death of 1,129 workers in a Bangladeshi factory in April. According to Oxfam, there were five deaths from a garment factory collapse in India last week and a further two factory collapses in May in Cambodia.
The Accord gives workers the right to refuse dangerous work, and mandates independent building inspections, workers’ health and safety training, and repairs and renovations to unsafe factories.
“Governments, regulators and the media have rightly zeroed in on what responsibility major retailers that source goods from these places have in improving safety and, more broadly, helping to lift these communities out of poverty,” said Guy Russo, the Managing Director of Kmart Australia.
Mr Russo has also committed Kmart Australia to publishing the names and addresses of its factories.
Kmart Australia sources clothing from 30 Bangladeshi garment makers who employ thousands of people, as well as a significant number of other manufacturers.
While conceding that they might not always get it right, Mr Russo said they have policies in place to ensure factories meet “strict ethical sourcing codes of conduct to uphold standards and protect workers”.
Recent audits by Kmart found more than half of its Bangladeshi factories were dangerous to work in. Mr Russo said that in such cases, Kmart Australia ceases to do business with them.
He told an ABC report that “all up we have probably removed or exited over 100 factories in the last 12 months” due to breaches of, or failure to comply with, their standards.
Signing the International Accord means that Kmart Australia publishes where their factories are and commit to ensuring safe working conditions or risk being sued in the Australian court system. Mr Russo said he is also changing the way Kmart conducts audits, by allowing workers to be interviewed away from factory bosses so they are free to voice their concerns without the risk of losing their job.
“I think the Accord is a great initiative that could be utilised across all areas that we and other manufacturers do business, because it allows a proper, robust system for communication to all of the parties concerned.”
As well as Kmart Australia and Target, Cotton On and Forever New have also signed the Accord. Big W, Rivers, Best & Less and The Just Group (Just Jeans and Jay Jays) have yet to do so. International companies who have signed include Nike, Levi, Timberland and H&M.