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Dozens of safety hazards are putting low-wage workers at risk at a Bangladeshi garment factory that made dress shirts for Donald Trump’s apparel brand, according to inspection reports.
Worker advocates say that the array of alleged jobsite hazards place the Trump-contracted factory, known as Elite Garments Industries, in violation of standards mandated by the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The accord is a legally binding agreement signed by more than 200 brands and retailers in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse outside Dhaka, Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers.
In August 2014, the organization overseeing the accord performed an in-depth safety analysis of factory buildings within Elite’s walled complex. At that time, the accord group found that, among other issues, the factory contained support columns that were “highly stressed,” an inadequate fire alarm system, apparent electrical problems, and escape stairwells in danger of becoming filled with smoke during a fire.
“The factory has numerous serious safety hazards that have not been corrected even though deadlines for completing the work are long past,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that played a key role in drafting the accord. “Any of these hazards has the potential to cause serious injury or death in a factory where almost 2,500 people work.”
Over the past year, Elite has implemented the majority of well over a hundred of the accord’s recommendations, and records state that Elite has committed to addressing the outstanding requirements imposed by the agreement. Yet Nova says that some of the most important steps toward safety still have not been taken, as per accord records updated earlier this month.
Nova expressed astonishment that the factory has failed to implement basic measures, such as removing heavy items from areas supported by potentially stressed columns. As completion of such tasks drags on at the Trump-contracted factory, Nova believes the stakes could hardly be higher. He says some of the factory’s unaddressed hazards include the same type of safety deficiencies “implicated in prior mass fatality disasters in Bangladesh.”
Although it is known that a variety of Trump apparel items have been manufactured in Bangladesh, the Elite Garments Industries factory is the country’s only specific facility to have been linked to Trump.
In May 2014, a container of button-down shirts arrived to the Port of Savannah, Georgia that originated from Elite Garments Industries and had been ordered by the New York-based apparel giant Phillips-Van Heusen, or PVH. PVH was Donald Trump’s main apparel sourcing agent until severing its relationship with him last year. The 2014 shipment included shirts listed simply as “39TR287,” a number that, according to several online retail sites including PVH’s own direct sales site, uniquely identifies a type of Donald Trump-brand dress shirt marked by a cargo pocket on the shirt’s right breast.
In August, Racked visited four factories in Shengzhou, China that manufactured Donald Trump’s neckties through a licensing agreement with PVH. In interviews with more than a dozen workers at the Chinese tie factories, no one alleged any violations of Chinese labor law. While the accord does not explicitly assert that the Elite factory has violated Bangladeshi law, the deadline commitments mandated by the accord — and now allegedly broken — to improve safety are enforceable in court.
PVH did not respond to requests for comment on the Elite factory. Panjiva, a database that aggregates shipping records from US customs data, lists PVH as one of Elite’s top customers; its orders from the factory have risen significantly since 2012.
In the wake of the April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, PVH was one of the first companies that came forward to sign the Bangladesh accord. Although PVH did not contract with factories within Rana Plaza, activists linked many large global brands and retailers, including Walmart and JCPenney, to the facility.
The catastrophe had not been without warning to factory management. Rana Plaza, like many other Bangladeshi factories contracted by global corporations, contained structural weaknesses that were even apparent to those working inside.
Although tens of thousands of important worksite safety improvements have been completed as a result of the accord, labor groups say that large portions of these commitments under the agreement — at Elite and also other facilities — have seen unacceptable delays. The organization that oversees the accord says that only 63 percent of mandated safety measures had been fulfilled as of June.
In a recent corporate responsibility report, PVH noted the widespread delays facing safety fixes under the accord while also lauding the conditions of its contracted factories in Bangladesh. “Though there is much more work to do, we are pleased that as of April 2016, our suppliers’ improvement rate was consistently higher than the Accord average,” the company asserted, adding that it had conducted a study to identify causes of delay that it believes will “ultimately lead to swifter remediation of outstanding issues.”
In the case of Elite Garments Industries, inspection records list delays and time-extension requests from the factory. Many of the accord requirements imposed deadlines of between six weeks and six months. As such deadlines are long exceeded, the accord group seems to be running out of patience.
For instance, in an inspection report from April 2014, the accord expressed concerns about the overall stability of one of Elite’s factory buildings. In a legally binding proviso, the accord demanded that Elite hire a building engineer to “assess the stability of Building 4.” Earlier this year, Elite asked for a several-month extension — to December 31st, 2016 — to complete the related work. The accord group rejected the time extension and, in notes included on the accord’s records, Elite says it is still planning on completing the study.
“They can say that they’ve finally got these things scheduled,” Nova said, “but that’s cold comfort for workers who have been working in a dangerous building for the past 24 months.”