After months of negotiations, Gap Inc. has signed onto the Pakistan Accord. This comes as a monumental victory for garment worker protections in Pakistan, a country where the textile and garment industry accounts for at least 6.7% of the total labor force, totaling approximately 2.2 million garment workers.

Gap Inc. is the architect of Nirapon, a non-profit that “works to facilitate workplace safety in Bangladesh through factory participation in a Safety Management Program.” Nirapon was created as a safety alternative to the Bangladesh Accord, following the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed 1,138 garment workers in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh. However, while the Bangladesh Accord created binding obligations on brands to ensure their supplier factories met mandatory corrective action plan timelines, Nirapon did not provide brands with a financial responsibility to ensure safety hazards could be addressed by factory owners. Instead, Nirapon only provides factory owners with education and direction on how to achieve a safe workplace, rather than actually requiring brands to maintain financial terms with factories sufficient to cover the cost of safety. Ultimately, this makes Nirapon much less impactful than the Accord in securing protections for garment workers and upholding factory safety regulations.



(Alternatively, the Accord has been hugely impactful, protecting the lives of approximately 1.8 million workers in 1,700 factories across Bangladesh through facility inspections, upgrades, and safety trainings. It’s estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of lives, have been saved in Bangladesh by the Accord, which has effectively ended cycles of fires, building collapses, and other accidents that senselessly take garment makers’ lives. In Pakistan, the Accord is currently set to cover over 500 factories with approximately 800,000 workers, representing over $2 billion in export value, will be covered across Pakistan. The more brands that sign onto the Pakistan Accord, the more factories, and thus, workers, will see life-saving protections.)

Thus, Gap Inc.’s decision to sign onto the Accord agreement in Pakistan is a major and unexpected victory. While Gap Inc. has not signed onto the Accord in Bangladesh and will still be utilizing Nirapon, the company’s support of the Pakistan Accord speaks to the necessary health and safety measures that are still very much needed in the country. Gap Inc. joins ranks with American Eagle Outfitters, ASOS, Bestseller, C&A, UNIQLO, H&M, Zara, Primark, Calvin Klein, and over 55 other brands in protecting worker lives by signing onto the Pakistan Accord.

According to a 2022 Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) report, “Workers’ lives at risk: how brands profit from unsafe factory work in Pakistan,” which surveyed workers in Pakistan producing for brands such as Levi’s, Target, Amazon, and JCPenney; health and wellbeing problems are rife within the industry. The report found that of the 585 garment workers surveyed, nearly 50% lack access to basic facilities, including regular rest breaks, safe drinking water and clean bathrooms; 74% experience verbal abuse; 80% work in tiring, painful or awkward positions; One in five over age 30 experience bone, joint or muscle problems; 65% of women workers say their job makes them feel miserable most or all of the time; 44% of women workers have experienced a workplace accident in the last year, including fainting, heat exhaustion, or suffocation; and one in ten women have noticed large cracks in the buildings where they work.

The announcement from Gap Inc. comes at a time where Remake is actively engaged in a campaign calling for all fashion brands producing Pakistan to sign onto the Accord, including what Remake is calling the Dirty Dozen: Amazon, ASDA, Columbia Sportswear (Columbia, SOREL, Mountain Hardwear and prAna), Decathlon, IKEA, JC Penney, Kontoor Brands (Lee, Wrangler and Rock & Republic), Target, Tom Tailor, URBN (Free People, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie), Walmart and Levi’s.

Most recently, Levi’s has been at the forefront of Remake’s efforts with 20 known suppliers in Pakistan. The brand, known for its iconic blue jeans and classic American aesthetic, has consistently declined signing onto the Pakistan Accord.

Most likely to quiet the criticisms, Levi’s recently signed onto Nirapon’s program in Bangladesh; however, Gap Inc.’s signing of the Pakistan Accord despite being a founder of Nirapon in Bangladesh calls into question if this move by Levi’s is enough. And we can tell you — it’s not.

​​There is no doubt that brands signing onto the Pakistan Accord will save lives. Fatal garment factory accidents like The Ali Enterprises factory fire in Karachi in 2012, which took the lives of over 260 workers, demonstrate its urgent need. In 2021, from January through August, 27 garment workers were killed and 62 injured due to factory fires, insufficient or locked or barred exits, faulty electrical wiring, chemical leaks, and collapsed buildings. For years, labor groups campaigning in Pakistan have called for the Accord’s presence, and now that it has arrived, it’s necessary for fashion brands to take accountability for the safety of the men and women who sew their clothing. By signing onto the Pakistan Accord, Gap Inc. is putting workers’ lives first — so why won’t Levi’s?

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Levi’s has become a master of performance advocacy.

In June 2023, the brand made a $100,000 donation to Outright International, a nonprofit that supports LGBTIQA+ globally through collective action. The brand continues to champion diversity on its Instagram and within its campaigns, as evident in the brand’s partnership campaign “Your 501 Story” with PhotoVogue, which celebrates many diverse bodies.

Although both of these moves are helpful, this public championing of diversity is not extended to the mostly women of color that work tirelessly in Levi’s garment factories to create the denim that is beloved by so many.

In June 2023, Remake launched into a third week of action to motivate Levi’s to sign the most recent version of the Accord, which expanded to include supply chains in Pakistan. Much of this action took place within the digital space, with an online campaign led by Ekō, an online community working to hold growing corporations responsible.

During Levi’s 501 anniversary celebration, the Remake community flooded the brand’s Instagram with over 1,400 comments asking them to step up and support garment makers, according to Daisy Christophel, Remake’s Social and Digital Media Director.

 

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“In the press, Levi’s referred to our campaign as a ‘social media ploy,’” said Christophel. “Calling our campaign a ploy is belittling to the 64,000 petition signers, the thousands of comments from customers that they tried to delete on their posts, the other brands who did step up and sign the Accord and most importantly the women who sew their denim just asking for safer working conditions. It’s not fun for anyone to have to protest, it’s out of necessity.”

Online campaigning by the Remake team and by community members resulted in even more signatures to the Ekō petition urging Levi’s to sign the Accord. On social media alone, hundreds of thousands were reached through Accord-focused content, which has ultimately spread awareness about Levi’s actions (or rather, inaction).

 

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Overall, Remake’s social media campaign during the Week of Action reached 16 million unique users, resulting in 236,708 campaign post engagements.

Outside of the internet, some advocates participated in a live demonstration in front of Levi’s flagship store in Times Square, New York.

Remake’s Development Manager Tessa Beltrano co-organized the demonstration alongside NYC organizers and Worker’s United partners.

“It felt intimidating, galvanizing, emotional, and so empowering to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime protest,” Beltrano said. “I had the absolute privilege of standing alongside our labor activist heroes from Bangladesh and Pakistan, Nazma Akter of Awaj Foundation, and Khalid Mahmood of Labor Education Foundation, as well as our incredible Remake Ambassadors, Fellows, team members, and inspiring coalition partners, as we demonstrated the dire need for Levi’s to sign the Pakistan Accord and protect their garment workers.”

Lindsey Coffey, a member of Remake’s Founding Fellowship, also participated in the demonstration.

“Our live demonstration consisted of speakers educating the public on the terrors garment workers endure, while also listening to surviving victims of the Rana Plaza disaster, and those who suffer in garment labor camps,” said Coffey.

 

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“The experience was both empowering and heartbreaking,” Coffey said. “When I act beyond myself, in a truly selfless space, I feel I am living my purpose. Although a rewarding experience, no one talks about the emotional turmoil that comes with it. It’s devastating to learn the truth and to listen to stories of those impacted. It’s also frustrating, at times, when you feel no one is listening.”

Although the brand has yet to sign onto the Pakistan Accord, not all hope is lost. The collective action manifested through the ethical fashion community is important and impactful, as it continues to give a voice to garment makers. Through the actions of advocates, the movement gained an increased number of signatures to the cause, putting more fuel in the fire below Levi’s feet.

“The global solidarity and sense of community we saw during this Week of Action was truly awe-inspiring. I woke up on the west coast to global protest photos from the UK, pictures of garment workers protesting in Pakistan and social media posts of people speaking up digitally. There are many seemingly invisible moving parts to each of those actions that took place…So many different organizations, individuals, and groups from all backgrounds came together collectively for a single goal. I hope to see more harmony in all movements,” Christophel said.

In truth, global-scale changes can be slow, but that does not mean consumers and policy makers should give up hope. Every email sent, letter written, protest attended, and social media post advocating for a better future has a tangible impact. With each small action, we inch closer to creating an industry free from violence and danger for fashion’s most vulnerable artisan.

“There is nothing like standing shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded people of all ages and roles in this industry, and demonstrating for the world the change you want to see. I know this community continues to grow stronger and more powerful as we connect with and amplify the voices of garment workers and those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We are all learning through these action weeks that together, we are unstoppable. We will keep fighting for what’s right, and will see it through in each campaign we execute,” Beltrano said.

 

Update: The story has been corrected on 7/24/23 to reflect updated information regarding the framework of the Accord agreement.

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