Five global retail brands have announced that they will not take part in the upcoming Dhaka Apparel Summit in Bangladesh "due to concerns over a crackdown on unions demanding better pay in textile factories," according to Reuters. The retailers – H&M, Zara's parent company Inditex, C&A, Next and Tchibo – all of which source garments and accessories from Bangladeshi factories, were planning to attend the Dhaka Apparel Summit on February 25.
According to the event's site, the Dhaka Apparel Summit "has been specifically organized to aid in the development of the textile and apparel industry in Bangladesh, and is formulated to bring together some of the world’s leading experts in their field to share their experiences and thoughts and to discuss issues pertaining to the [ready made garments] industry and ways in which the business can realize sustainable growth well into the 21st Century." This year’s event is slated to feature discussions "targeted at establishing a more sustainable apparel supply chain with the specific aim of creating a better future together."
The Clean Clothes Campaign - a Netherlands-based global alliance of trade unions and NGOs - said in a statement on Wednesday that the brands' "unprecedented" decision to pull out of the event "underscores growing international concern over the deterioration of labor rights in the Bangladesh garment industry."
C&A - an international Dutch chain of fashion retail clothing stores - confirmed it had withdrawn from the summit amid concerns over the detention of trade unionists and advocates of workers rights following protests for better pay in December. Swedish fast fashion giant H&M also confirmed that it has pulled out of the summit, saying it believes attending "would create confusion and send the wrong signals regarding our commitment to freedom of association."
This year's summit comes on the heels of a larger movement by the Awami League party (one of the two major political parties of Bangladesh), which along with garment industry employers, has intensified its crackdown on apparel workers following mass walkouts over wages and working conditions in December.
In recent weeks, the international media and giant international retailers, alike, have voiced concerns about the situation in Bangladesh after tens of thousands of workers took to protest in connection with the conditions of their employment, namely the harsh conditions and poverty-level wages. The Bangladesh government and garment factory owners fear the eruption of such protest efforts will negatively impact investor profits.
While these large multi-national retailers taking a stance against worker relations in Bangladesh - by way of boycotting the summit - is, in fact, a noteworthy move, it is an arguably ineffective one that can be likened to their many other "green"/goodwill efforts. If they are, in fact, interested in workers' rights, as they are seemingly suggesting, would it not be more impressive to pull manufacturing from the factories in Bangladesh that fail to observe basic human and workers' rights tenets, instead of continuing to profit from them?