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Hudson Valley Student Holds Rally Against Bangladesh Factory Conditions

WAMC/Allison Dunne

A high-school student in New York’s Hudson Valley organized a rally to pressure a major U.S. retailer into signing an agreement for construction safety at their factories abroad. The retailer says, not so fast.

Schuyler Kempton, a self-proclaimed socialist and rising junior at Poughkeepsie Day School, organized Tuesday’s rally outside the Gap Distribution Center in Fishkill, in Dutchess County. His new group, called Hudson Valley Watch the Gap, is working with a national campaign called Gap Deathtraps to try and pressure Gap Inc. into signing a legally-binding accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Kempton’s campaign comes after a Bangladesh garment factory collapse in April that left more than 1,000 workers dead. The factory did not produce clothing for the Gap, but the disaster did lead to a renewed call to protect worker safety in Bangladesh. Kempton, a blogger, explains why he thinks it’s important to stand in Fishkill for workers in Bangladesh.

The fire and building safety agreement has mainly international labor groups as partners, and calls for independent factory inspections as well as financial support from the companies that sign the agreement. Some major clothing companies such as H&M and PVH Corporation, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have signed the agreement. In an e-mailed statement, a Gap spokeswoman says Gap Inc. takes its commitment to improving working conditions in Bangladesh very seriously. Yet when it comes to the agreement, she says the goal is the same, but Gap officials differ on the best way to get there. She notes that Gap would like the partnership to include local stakeholders such as the Bangladeshi government, local industry, and worker representatives.

Democratic Dutchess County Legislator Joel Tyner appeared briefly at the Fishkill rally.

He says Gap should follow what he calls responsible companies in signing the agreement. And Kempton, joined at the rally by his mother, father, and four other activists, says:

Wappingers Falls resident Charles Davenport, who is trying to launch a Democratic run for a Dutchess County legislator post, held the following sign at the rally.

In December of 2010, a fire broke out at a factory in Bangladesh that killed 29 people and injured more than 100. That factory was a supplier to Gap Inc. along with several other major apparel brands and retailers. The Gap spokeswoman, in her e-mailed statement, notes that Gap has joined a group of North American retailers, associations and brands organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center to develop an action plan to achieve long-lasting change for the garment industry and its workers in Bangladesh. In fact, the Center convened a working session on the matter June 7, with former U.S. Senators George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe facilitating discussions among government, worker rights, and industry safety community leaders.

Meanwhile, Schuyler Kempton is hoping a petition he dropped off at the Gap store in the Poughkeepsie Galleria makes its way up the chain.

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