NY comptroller says companies to push human rights

Michael Virtanen, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The state comptroller has withdrawn two corporate shareholder resolutions after Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond agreed to encourage their suppliers to take workplace safety, human rights and environmental compliance seriously.

Thomas DiNapoli is the trustee of New York's $152 billion pension fund for public workers. It owned 770,945 shares of Best Buy worth about $17.6 million and 703,193 shares of Bed, Bath & Beyond recently valued at $45.4 million.

"Companies face significant legal, reputational and operational risks when their suppliers do not promote sustainable business practices," DiNapoli said. He suggested they all take a comprehensive look at operations globally.

The shareholder resolutions called for the companies to require their main suppliers to publish annual disclosures on their workplace practices using internationally recognized standards.

Best Buy, in a March 8 letter to the comptroller's office, said it will encourage 20 major suppliers to produce regular reports and help them build management systems to do it, while also sending letters to all its suppliers to encourage compliance. "The company believes appropriate transparency in our supply chain supports our ability to manage risk," wrote Todd Hartman, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of the electronics, computer and appliance retailer.

Bed Bath & Beyond said in a Feb. 27 letter it will add language to its vendor compliance guides, for both domestic goods and imports, encouraging socially responsible practices. Michael Callahan, vice president and corporate counsel for the housewares retailer, said revised guides are scheduled to be released in January 2014 but may be issued sooner.

The New York fund said it wrote letters in 2010 to several apparel and consumer goods companies, asking them to call on their overseas suppliers to implement basic labor rights standards and to allow independent monitoring of their compliance.

DiNapoli reached an agreement in 2011 with flooring company Mohawk Industries to adopt a labor code of conduct for its suppliers. Last year, Leggett & Platt, a manufacturer of furniture and bedding, agreed to create a uniform code of conduct for its worldwide supply chain that became part of its standard contract terms.

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