I Got an Email From Nordstrom

As many of you may know, I’ve been tweeting the 14 American retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, Sears, KMart, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Foot Locker, Kohl’s, Macy’s, The North Face, American Eagle Outfitters, The Children’s Place, OshKosh B’Gosh) who have refused to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety – which has already been signed by several European manufacturers and retailers.

I’ve been pulling no punches – I have repeatedly tweeted this heart-wrenching picture with tweets like this:

This is what you’re buying at @Nordstrom SIGN THE ACCORD. #Bangladesh pic.twitter.com/htOZUtC4by Pls RT

couple died in a collapse buiding

Today I was contacted by Nordstrom and asked for my contact information. I replied with my email address, and received the following email:

From: “Hodgson, Laura” <Laura.Hodgson@nordstrom.com>
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 2:01 PM
Subject: Nordstrom response to Bangladesh inquiry
Hi Kate,
I understand from our Social Media team that you were interested in discussing why we decided not to sign onto The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.  First of all, thank you for contacting us directly.  We greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this further and directly with our customers.
I am the Director of Social Responsibility for Nordstrom Product Group which is our private-label division which produces apparel, footwear, accessories, cosmetics and home products under a variety of Nordstrom labels.  Nordstrom private-label product makes up a very small portion of the many brands sold at Nordstrom.  The Social Responsibility program was created over 15 years ago and has a dedicated staff, some of whom have been with the program over 11 years, myself included.  Through the creation and evolution of our program we have created protocols and practices that utilize certified, independent third-party monitoring companies to ensure our stringent expectations of suppliers are upheld.
The program is applied globally and includes working with 3 factories in Bangladesh.  We have been deeply saddened by the tragic events in factories in Bangladesh for some time now, well prior to the Rana Plaza collapse.  In fact, we began working with a collective group of companies and industry organizations to improve building and worker safety in January of this year through our participation in the American Apparel and Footwear Association and National Retail Federation.  This working group has formed what is now known as the Safer Factory Initiative (https://www.wewear.org/brands-and-retailers-seek-transparency-and-continued-collaboration-with-bangladesh-government-in-%E2%80%9Csafer-factories-initiative%E2%80%9D/).  This initiative brings together brands, government, unions, factory owners and factory workers to create comprehensive industry standards for factory safety.  It will implement these standards through assessments that focus on electrical wiring, building code compliance, alarm system installation and maintenance, as well as employee awareness training and education.  The education and training of workers is the most immediate goal within the initiative measures and has already begun.
The goal of this working group is to improve the safety of factory workers globally, beginning specifically in Bangladesh, and to ensure their safety in general, not just within the factory walls.  We have come to understand that the concept personal safety and fire safety in particular are not well-addressed in Bangladeshi culture.  As such, we want to ensure our efforts are comprehensive and not limited to just their time on the clock at the factory.
The Safer Factory Initiative is a commitment we have made that requires a financial commitment as well as significant time and effort on behalf of our Social Responsibility staff, agent representatives in Bangladesh, peer companies, factory owners and management, as well as the independent monitors we contract with to carry out on-site assessments.  We have also already identified many independent training organizations for worker training such as WRAP (http://www.wrapcompliance.org/en/fire-safety-training) and worker communication channels such as Labor Voices (http://laborvoices.com/) and Clearvoice (http://www.thecahngroup.com/clearVoice.php) that may be employed to carry out the in-depth training and education we consider critical to ensuring the safety of factory workers immediately.
We have reviewed the Accord thoroughly and believe it is also taking important steps to improve conditions in Bangladeshi factories.  Most of our efforts are aligned and we will continue to monitor the work of the companies involved in the Accord while we continue to move forward with the work we have been focused on through the SFI since January.
These are just a few of the steps that we have taken to ensure that we continue to work with factories that meet our standards to protect the lives and rights of workers in factories that produce Nordstrom labeled product.  I would be happy to answer any additional questions you might have or continue the conversation in general.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
Thank you again for reaching out to us with your concerns and questions.  We take this matter very seriously and are committed to the safety and well-being of the workers in factories with which we contract to manufacture.
Thank you,
Laura
Laura Hodgson
NORDSTROM Social Responsibility
phone: 206.373.5431
Well, okay – good for them. They have a “working group” that has been working on building safety and worker training – but they still refuse to sign the Accord. This was my reply:
Laura:
I appreciate your response, but if you’ll pardon me, it’s “blah-blah-same-old-blah” – and nothing will change.
If this program is doing so much good, why aren’t you publicizing it? If it was worth the time you spent to email me, it ought to be worth the time to let Americans know that you are truly making an effort. People need to know if this is the real deal – or, if you’ll pardon my skepticism, I suspect this is just more of the same-old, same-old lip service – and again, nothing will change. This feels like a lot of hair-splitting and deflecting and disclaimers.
*Something* needs to change. And if this Fire & Bldg Safety Accord is a concrete step in the right direction – for the love of God – sign it and quit trying to find every loophole in order to avoid responsibility and not affect the bottom line. It’s the only decent thing to do.
I told whoever DM’d me that I’m not going to back off on this.
Your customers are well-heeled enough that they can afford to pay a little more for their garments, shoes and accessories.
And here’s the “What’s in it for Nordstrom?”:   Think of the incredible amount of positive publicity it would generate for Nordstrom if your company led the way – and did the right thing for those poor exploited people who make our designer jeans and handbags. If you were to do that, I’d be just as quick to tweet to my 10,000 followers that your company is a leader, has a conscience, is willing to stand up for what is right – instead of prevaricating and smokescreening and tossing out more of the same “blah blah blah.” And Americans, who are at heart decent people, would applaud you.
It’s simple:  Lead the way. Do the right thing. 
We need to take care of each other, and if that means I have to spend a few dollars more on my tee shirts so workers in the 3rd world have enough to eat and they don’t end their wretched lives crushed to death in the rubble of a collapsed factory or burned alive in another factory (this happened in India) where the exits are chained shut – I’m more than willing to do it.
Thanks for taking the time – but it’s not enough.
Kate
If you’ll notice, I have left Ms. Hodgson’s contact information in the email. If you feel moved to do so, please feel free to (politely, please!) contact her and let her understand that as much as we all love a bargain, none of  us wants to wear cheap clothing – if it comes drenched in the blood of the poor, wretched people of Bangladesh and other countries.
I’m sure the Accord is not the be-all and end-all perfect answer to the giant problem of worker exploitation in the 3rd World… but – it IS a start.
(My apologies for the tight blocks of text; I have been unable to insert a blank line between paragraphs.)
UPDATE:
I received another reply from Ms. Hodgson from Nordstrom:

Hi Kate,

I understand and appreciate your frustration in the lack of information that’s been shared about the comprehensive plan and commitment we’ve made through the Safer Factories Initiative. The Accord has certainly had more attention from a PR standpoint but please be assured that this does not mean that the Safer Factory Initiative is not just as much a concrete step in the right direction.

As a part of the working group, we are also very eager to share more of the detailed plan behind it. We expect that more communication with details of the work to be done will be issued next week. But I want to clarify that we are certainly not participating for publicity – we are participating because we believe there is more that can be done and we support the direction that this initiative has taken.

As I previously mentioned, our commitment of both time and financial resources to the Initiative is focused first and foremost on educating and empowering the workers themselves, as well as partnering with government, unions, factory owners and independent monitoring firms. We’d be glad to share progress with you as time goes on. Also, I shared this link before but please do continue to check in for updates from the working group:https://www.wewear.org/brands-and-retailers-seek-transparency-and-continued-collaboration-with-bangladesh-government-in-“safer-factories-initiative”/.

Thank you again for your concern and questions. We do value the ongoing conversation.

Thank you,
Laura

My reply:

“Educating and empowering the workers”…? For what? Not going to work in a factory that’s going to collapse on them? Really?

Laura – I appreciate that you have good intentions, but training the workers just isn’t going to do it. Again, you’ll pardon me, but that’s a whole lot of nothing.

My understanding is that this situation is relatively simple: unscrupulous factory owners are exploiting their workers for profit. Training the workers isn’t going to cut it. Forcing the factory/business owners to provide safe working conditions and decent wages *is* what’s going to cut it.

Please do keep me updated; as of now? I remain unconvinced.

Kate

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Seems like the most obvious question she avoided answering is why they’re not signing on to the accord. And this is a corporation, so we know the answer: money.

    Reply

  2. Posted by leftsideannie on May 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    I agree with you 1000%. “Empowering the workers”? That’s just bullshit.

    Reply

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