Walmart's role in worker deaths
Documents indicate that company blocked safety drive.
The New York Times has revealed how Walmart blocked a safety drive at several factories including the Tazreen apparel factory where 112 people died in a fire two weeks ago.
Two NGO officials who attended a meeting held in Bangladesh in 2011 to discuss factory safety said the Walmart official played the lead role in blocking an effort to have global retailers pay more for apparel to help Bangladesh factories improve electrical and fire safety. They told the New York times that Walmart was the company that “most strongly advocated this position.”
According to the minutes of the meeting a Walmart director of ethical sourcing, along with an official from another major apparel retailer, noted that the proposed improvements in electrical and fire safety would involve as many as 4,500 factories and would be “in most cases” a “very extensive and costly modification. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments,” the minutes said.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group based in Washington, who was also at the meeting said that upgrading the factories’ safety would cost a small fraction of what Walmart and other retailers pay for the clothing they import from Bangladesh each year.
Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign who was present at the meeting said, “Everyone recognised that fire safety was a serious problem and it was a high time to act on it, and Walmart’s position had a very negative impact.”
Not to blame
Walmart tried to distance itself from the factory saying that a supplier had subcontracted work to the factory without its authorisation and that it had now terminated the relationship with that supplier. However evidence showed that three suppliers were using the factory to make various items for Walmart and that 5 of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making clothing for Walmart.
Mr. Nova who works closely with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and made the factory documents available said the documents raised questions about Walmart’s statements after the fire. “It was not a single rogue supplier as Walmart has claimed — there were several different U.S. suppliers working for Walmart in that factory. It stretches credulity to think that Walmart, famous for its tight control over its global supply chain, didn’t know about this.”
Clothing made for Disney and Sears was also found by investigators in the factory after the fire. Both companies have said suppliers had given orders to the factory without their knowledge and authorisation.
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