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Cornell joins accord to protect Bangladeshi workers

Cornell will require its apparel licensees who have garments manufactured in factories in Bangladesh to sign and abide by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The accord is a legally binding, five-year agreement between apparel manufacturers and global and Bangladeshi trade unions. It was created in the wake of the collapse of an eight-story commercial building outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, April 24, 2013, that killed 1,129 workers. Another 2,500 workers were injured. The collapse followed the deaths of approximately 300 workers in factory fires in Bangladesh and other countries. Most died due to the absence of proper fire exits or from being trapped behind locked doors and windows.

“Cornell is taking this step to ensure that workers who make Cornell logo apparel do not have to work in buildings that are structurally unsound, lack proper fire-safety measures, or both,” said Cornell president David Skorton. “We believe the accord is a fair, transparent and unbiased approach to factory inspection and remediation. It is clear that the inspection practices that have been in place for years have not been effective in preventing these types of tragedies.”

The accord calls for independent inspections by trained fire- and building-safety inspectors at factories used by members of the accord. When problems are found in a factory, the companies using the factory will share the costs of retrofitting the structure. To date, more than 130 companies have signed the accord. Collectively, they do business with more than 1,600 Bangladeshi factories employing more than 2 million workers.

This decision follows several others in recent years in which Cornell has either terminated or threatened to terminate the licenses of companies whose actions failed to follow the university’s codes of conduct. In each case the problems were addressed and the companies remain Cornell licensees. Cornell is a member of the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium. The latter is a witness signatory to the accord.

Mike Powers, chair of Cornell’s Licensing Oversight Committee and a board member of the Worker Rights Consortium, said that five of the 18 Cornell licensees who have disclosed sourcing goods from Bangladesh have already become signatories to the accord. They include Adidas and Fruit of the Loom, which owns Russell Athletic. Those that have not signed have received letters informing them of the university’s new requirement.

Powers credited student organizations Cornell Organization for Labor Action and the Cornell Sweatfree Coalition for advocating on behalf of the accord.

“Special thanks need to go to Molly Beckhardt ’14 and Michael Ferrer ’16, who, as members of the Licensing Oversight Committee, helped us evaluate the accord and make this recommendation to the president,” he said.

Cornell is the sixth university to add the accord to their licensing requirements. The others are Duke, NYU, Penn, Temple and Penn State. 

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John Carberry