GREENSBORO, N.C. — Factory workers from Bangladesh were in Greensboro Thursday as part of a national tour encouraging garment companies to commit to factory safety.
Akilma Khnam started working for a factory in Bangladesh when she was fourteen. She survived a building collapse last year that killed nearly 1200 people.
“The roof fell onto a machine near me, and the machine fell on me and I was crushed,” she told FOX8. “Three or four others were trapped with me, and they found us twelve hours later and took us to the hospital.”
Khnam was part of an 18-day trip to the United States traveling to promote the Bangladesh Safety Accord, a commitment between brands and Bangladeshi factory unions to implement better conditions.
They want to improve fire safety standards and address structural concerns at the 4,000 factories in Bangladesh. They have the support of 16 universities, and 150 companies have signed the Accord.
Their goal in coming to Greensboro was to push VF Corporation to join the Accord.
VF Corporation is already part of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. It’s different than the Accord but also promises to improve conditions at factories in Bangladesh.
Director of Corporate Communications Carole Crosslin explained VF Corporation believes the Alliance is a better fit.
“We have a history of working with the companies in the Alliance, which are mostly North American companies,” Crosslin pointed out. She said they also felt like the Alliance allowed them to make bigger changes more quickly in Bangladeshi factories.
Crosslin said they’ve already made major improvements in the last six months. “All of our 91 factories have been completely inspected, and we’re actually working with factory owners right now to implement any safety improvements that need to be made.”
She shared the Alliance’s six month report, which included results from a survey with more than 3,000 factory workers. It included information outlining the need for emergency procedure training for employees.
Strain still believes VF should sign an agreement with the Accord. “The agreement that VF is a part of with Wal-Mart and the Gap is not an agreement with workers. It’s simply an agreement between companies,” he argued.
Crosslin said VF Corporation is working with employees and union leaders. “We share the commitment to worker safety in Bangladesh.”
29 garment workers died in a fire in 2010 in a factory called That’s It Sportswear. VF was one of the companies related to production in the factory.
VF Corporation has invested more than $17 million to improve conditions in Bangladeshi factories, Crosslin said.
“We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for workers making our products,” she concluded.