We were fortunate to catch up with Liana Foxvog, Director of SweatFree Communities (SFC), a program of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) during this tumultuous time in the labor rights movement for garment factory workers in Asia. It has been two years since we last spoke with Liana about the grassroots campaign to get cities and states to join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium– you can read Liana’s previous interview on SPC here.
Ethix: The recent deadly fire at the Tazreen Factory in Bangladesh took the lives of over 100 garment workers. What steps is SweatFree Communities / ILRF taking to fight for these lost workers and their families?
Liana Foxvog: Since the December 14, 2010, fire that killed 29 workers at a factory supplying brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, JC Penney, and Kohl’s, ILRF has been part of a coalition including several Bangladeshi unions, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, Worker Rights Consortium, and ITG / IndustriALL Global Union, that is urging brands and retailers to adopt meaningful fire safety measures to prevent future deaths in their supplier factories. So far PVH (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands) and Tchibo (a German retailer) have signed onto the labor-supported Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. Gap has instead announced its own voluntary initiative that lacks sufficient financing to factories and adequate product pricing in order to ensure mandatory building renovations, and that doesn’t include a role for unions in program implementation and oversight.
Following the fire at Tazreen Fashions on November 24, 2012, ILRF is expanding our campaign to urge all buyers from Tazreen, including C&A, Delta Apparel / MJ Soffe, Dickies, Disney, Kik, SeanJohn, Sears/Kmart, and Walmart to join with PVH and Tchibo in putting in place real fire safety. But instead, just last week, Walmart announced a program that, just like Gap’s initiative, lacks the core elements to ensuring workplace safety in Bangladesh.
This past Saturday, there was yet another fire in Bangladesh at a factory supplying European brands. As we show in our new report, Deadly Secrets western brands and retailers need to make key changes in their purchasing practices in order to stop the wave of hundreds of factory fires in the Bangladesh garment industry.
Our petition to Walmart, Gap and H&M has nearly 100,000 signers, but the companies still aren’t listening. Please add your name here and sign up for our urgent action alerts to stay tuned for the next round of actions.
Ethix: What can the average consumer do to force apparel factories to comply with basic human rights, safe working conditions, and a livable wage?
Liana Foxvog: When you’re shopping, prioritize clothing made by worker-owned cooperatives or in factories where workers are organized in independent, democratic unions. If you’re part of a group that orders clothing in wholesale, check out our Model Tee Project. Finally, take action and spread the word about in response to urgent appeals.
Ethix: Could you elaborate on a few actions that SweatFree Communities / ILRF is currently working on?
Liana Foxvog: While much of our focus in recent months has been on workplace safety in Bangladesh and Pakistan, in the day-to-day organizing our network engages with institutions in our communities to promote sweatshop-free purchasing. You can bring the sweatfree campaign to your school district, city, county, or state. For more information, visit sweatfree.org or email me directly at email@example.com.
Ethix: How can our clients and other labor rights activists donate to SweatFree Communities?
Liana Foxvog: We very much appreciate donations online or via check to ILRF, 1634 I St, Suite 1001, Washington, DC 20006 (memo line: SweatFree Communities). Thank you!
We look forward to your thoughts. You can also download the entire interview here.