Seattle-based Nordstrom is among a growing number of retailers taking a closer look at factory safety after a building collapse killed more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh.
Nordstrom’s products were not made in the collapsed building, but the company does have some production at three factories in Bangladesh.
Spokeswoman Tara Darrow said Nordstrom scrutinized the factories’ building permits, maintenance records and safety procedures before it began production there and is confident they meet its “strict standards.”
She said Nordstrom also has reviewed its records since the April 24 collapse and is working closely with its agents “who are on the ground and have direct access to the factories.”
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“We were not doing private label business in the Bangladesh factories where these disasters occurred, and we won’t be in similar ones in the future,” Darrow said in an email. “How those factories were run is much different than the factories we choose to do business with.”
Darrow added that Nordstrom’s vendors must follow a code of conduct that covers everything from health and safety standards to wages, benefits and hours of work.
Last month’s factory collapse is bringing renewed public scrutiny to the often deadly working conditions in the multibillion-dollar Bangladesh garment industry.
More than a dozen clothing brands this week announced plans to sign a five-year, legally binding contract that requires them to help pay for fire safety and building improvements in Bangladesh.
Participants include Benetton, H&M, Joe Fresh, Mango, Tesco and Zara. Notably missing are Gap, Sears, and J.C. Penney, which all have said they are studying the pact.
Nordstrom, another holdout, is working with the American Apparel and Footwear Association instead on new safety guidelines, Darrow said.
Nordstrom held its annual shareholder meeting Tuesday in downtown Seattle. While the Bangladesh factory collapse did not arise as a topic of concern among the dozens in attendance, President Blake Nordstrom spoke about it in a short interview afterward.
“It is a tragedy, and a painful reminder of how fragile the situation is. Thankfully, we weren’t a part of it,” he said.
The factory complex that collapsed was eight stories high, and Nordstrom generally avoids multi-story buildings, he noted. Its private-label division, which accounts for a small portion of its merchandise, works with more than 460 factories in 38 countries.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Nordstrom said. “We want to conduct our business in a manner we’d like to be treated ourselves, and that applies to product in terms of how it’s sourced globally.”
Whether the tragedy in Bangladesh changes customer behavior remains to be seen.
Nordstrom has received a handful of calls from customers seeking factory information since then, Darrow said.
“It’s everything from, ‘I want to know where my Nordstrom Smartcare shirt was made and who made it,’ to ‘I want to buy only items made in the USA,’ ” she said.
Retail industry experts note that Nordstrom customers tend to be affluent and can afford to pay more for clothes made in humane working conditions.
Lower-income shoppers, while appalled by what happened in Bangladesh, may be less likely to take economic action, said Mary Ann Odegaard, a marketing professor at the University of Washington, Bothell, School of Business.
“I think the educated, liberal, better-off consumer can afford to be touched by what happened,” she said. “But if you’re at the lower end, your wallet may speak louder than your heart.”
Information from the Associated Press is included in this story. Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @amyemartinez