Penney says it’s changing Bangladesh contracting practices; Dickies says that information is proprietary

Robert Rasberry, management professor at SMU's Cox School of Business, talks about how two companies are considering their options in wake of garment-factory disaster in Bangladesh.

By Barry Shlachter

The scorecard is mixed on how U.S. brands are dealing with the garment factory disasters that have claimed thousands of lives in Bangladesh since 2005, including more than 1,000 in a recent building collapse.

In North Texas, JC Penney and Williamson-Dickie, owner of the Dickies brand, are examples of the very different tacks being taken.

Penney confirmed last week that it is tightening its contracting guidelines in Bangladesh following the tragic building collapse. However, Dickies has remained publicly silent on what it is or isn’t doing.

The Plano-based department store chain has begun implementing a policy that would prohibit contractors from operating out of multiuse buildings, as was the case with Rana Plaza, which collapsed in April, killing more than 1,000 workers. Joe Fresh and Mango garments, brands sold at Penney, were found in the rubble. Penney goods were made in a building that burned down in 2010.

“Standards of this policy are being finalized now and we plan to fully implement [the policy] across the company's entire supplier base,” spokeswoman Daphne Avila said. “The company has already begun phasing out the use of factories in multiuse buildings in Bangladesh and is expected to be completed later this month.”

Penney is also changing its scorecard for rating workplaces. It will now give more weight to structural and electrical inspections on the social compliance checklist to determine a particular factory’s level of risk, Avila said.

Fort Worth-based Dickies, citing a longtime practice of not disclosing what it considers proprietary information as a privately held company, declined to say if it has changed any of its practices in Bangladesh. Spokeswoman Misty Otto confirmed that it had clothing made at Tazreen Fashions, but that its contract had ended before a November fire there that claimed 112 lives....

Robert Rasberry, who teaches ethics at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, is willing to give Dickies the benefit of the doubt.

“I imagine they are doing a lot of investigating behind the scenes to see if they had a supplier within the fire zones in Bangladesh,” Rasberry said....

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