REFILE-UPDATE 2-North American retailers devising own Bangladesh plans

Tue May 14, 2013 7:59pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl

May 14 (Reuters) - North American retailers on Tuesday discussed forging their own Bangladesh safety agreement--an alternative to a legally binding accord that many European retailers have signed on to--though details of any alternative accord were still unclear.

The discussions Tuesday were the latest in a series of talks, some convened by large retail trade organizations and others by major retailers such as Macy's JC Penney Co Inc, and Sears Holdings Corp, to develop a response to fatal fires and a factory collapse in Bangladesh last month that killed more than 1,000 people.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), one of the largest U.S. retail trade associations, spoke on Tuesday afternoon with other trade associations and with its member companies about a possible accord among North American retailers. Details from those calls are not yet available.

Meetings among North American retailers are shaping up as an alternative approach to an accord that European-based retailers have reached. The pact, joined Tuesday by Loblaw Cos Ltd of Canada, includes legally binding commitments to safety improvements, according to industry sources. A copy of the agreement has not yet been released.

Major European retailers such as Sweden's H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB and Spain's Inditex SA have signed on to the accord. Labor groups including Europe's IndustriALL and UNI Global Union, as well as non-governmental organizations, provided the initial draft of the agreement and have set a May 15 deadline for companies to commit to its terms.

U.S.-based retailers have been reluctant to join any industry accord that creates legally binding objectives. Gap Inc said it would sign the accord only if changes are made to the way disputes are resolved in the courts. As of Tuesday, the only major U.S. company to announce its support was PVH Corp, whose brands include Calvin Klein.

Robert E. Scott, an expert on contracts and commercial transactions at Columbia Law School, said in an email that the U.S. retailers are balancing a desire to seek improvement in Bangladesh against concerns about exposing themselves to liability for safety issues.   Continued...