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Retailers urged to join Bangladesh safety pact

A large coalition of religious groups and investors is urging major US retailers to join a landmark plan to improve factory safety in Bangladesh, calling on them to act together to force changes in the overseas marketplace.

In a letter Thursday, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the AFL-CIO are pressing retail giants like Walmart, Target, Sears, and Gap to sign on to the factory safety plan that more than two dozen European retailers have embraced this week. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which helped with the letter, said the signers had $1 trillion in investment assets.

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The religious groups and investors pointed to the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers last month as well as a November fire in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers, saying, ‘‘They are a grave indictment of the human rights record of Bangladesh, and an illustration of the failure of the global companies that manufacture and source their products there to ensure humane working conditions.’’

The signatories pointed to decisions by some US firms, such as Walmart and Gap, to forgo signing on to the plan and set up their own factory inspection programs for Bangladesh, but criticized those moves as not enough. ‘‘Acting alone, companies can and do bring about meaningful and positive changes in human rights in the countries where they source and manufacture,’’ the 99 signers wrote. ‘‘But when faced with intransigence of the type we have historically seen in Bangladesh on worker safety issues, we are convinced that systemic change will only occur when companies take action together.’’

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