Morocco Earthquake Recovery: Global Buyers Urged to Step Up

A prominent multistakeholder group that promotes workers’ rights is encouraging all international buyers to play a role in Morocco’s recovery after a powerful earthquake struck the High Atlas Mountains earlier this month, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring more than 5,600, according to official figures.

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), whose roster includes trade unions, NGOs and brands such as H&M Group, Marks & Spencer and Zara owner Inditex, said that it is engaging with its members to understand the supply chain impacts of the 6.8-magnitude temblor, which caused mountain villages near the epicenter to collapse on themselves on Sept. 8.

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Morocco, where a textile factory collapse killed six earlier this year, is home to farms, factories and mines spanning all three sectors that the ETI covers: apparel and textile, food fishing and farming, and general merchandise.

While the epicenter of the earthquake, some 45 miles southwest of Marrakech, was remote, the effects of the disaster will be “far-reaching, with significant implications for normal life and business as usual,” the organization said. And as search-and-rescue efforts wind down and the humanitarian response ramps up, businesses will have a “part to play in recovery and support to affected workers and communities,” it added.

The H&M Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle funded by its namesake’s founding family, revealed last week that it has provided $250,000 in emergency relief to the Red Cross/Red Crescent, whose efforts include deploying food, shelter, healthcare and emergency medical assistance, as well as reuniting families.

“Our thoughts are with those impacted by this terrible disaster,” said Karl-Johan Persson, CEO at H&M Group and a board member of the H&M Foundation. “We at [the] H&M Foundation wanted to show our support and solidarity to the people of Morocco with this donation, [which] will support the aid relief efforts of the Red Cross/Red Crescent in Morocco.”

Inditex said that it has donated 3 million euros ($3.2 million) to Spain’s Red Cross to support the Red Crescent movement’s work amid the catastrophe, the deadliest that Morocco has seen in more than six decades. The world’s largest fashion retailer by revenue has also contacted humanitarian organizations with a presence in the region to offer clothing, shoes and home products, it said.

Over in France, Decathlon said that its Moroccan team mobilized to provide thousands of sleeping bags, tents and air mattresses directly to those in need “within hours of the earthquake striking.” The sporting goods retailer also made a 1 million-euro ($1.1 million) fund available to provide more equipment locally while supporting local NGOs that are assisting communities in the worst-hit areas.

“The events that unfolded in Morocco have shocked and saddened us all,” said Barbara Martin Coppola, the company’s CEO. “Decathlon will continue to mobilize through local NGOs to ensure that the communities most affected by this disaster receive as much support and equipment as possible. Now is a time for the world to come together in global solidarity.”

Labor campaigners previously criticized brands for doing the “bare minimum” in the wake of Turkey’s February earthquakes, which more directly affected garment and textile manufacturers.

The ETI also urged its members at the time to foster their suppliers’ recovery, including extending delivery deadlines, advancing payment for goods received, lending financial assistance, helping ensure structural safety and refraining from seeking discounts on future orders.

But research published last month by the Worker Rights Consortium found that most buyers came up short in their responses, with just two out of 16 brands—C&A and Marks & Spencer—claiming to have acted responsibly with respect to order delays and aid to suppliers.

“While many leading apparel brands extended delivery deadlines, they could have and should have done much more,” said Scott Nova, the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s executive director. “With a few notable exceptions, the world’s apparel brands looked at the calamity in their Turkish supply chains and basically decided to abandon workers to their fate.”

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