An update, with comment from Walmart, appears below.
Two news reports yesterday shed new light on Walmart’s relationship to the Bangladesh factory where at least 112 workers died in a November 24 fire. One shows Walmart’s role in defeating a proposal for retail corporations to pay for safety improvements; the other shows that multiple Walmart suppliers used the factory this year.
“Walmart’s efforts to evade accountability make a mockery of its pretensions to be committed to protecting the rights of workers in its supply chain,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, in an e-mail to The Nation. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment late last night.
In a Wednesday morning article, Bloomberg News reported an April 2011 meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, at which major retail corporations considered a proposed agreement under which they would pay more so that their suppliers could make safety improvements. Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based NGO Clean Clothes Campaign told Bloomberg that Walmart’s director of ethical sourcing, Sridevi Kalavakolanu, said at the meeting that Walmart would not agree to pay the higher cost.
Bloomberg reporters Renee Dudley and Arun Devnath also revealed a document written by Kalavakolanu and a Gap official, which was included in the meeting’s minutes, which stated, “Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories. It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”
Zeldenrust, the Clean Clothes Campaign’s international coordinator, told the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse that Walmart was the company that “most strongly advocated this position.” The 2011 meeting followed dozens of deaths in Bangladesh factory fires. The Tazreen factory in Bangladesh, the site of last month’s deadly fire, had limited fire exits and no fire escapes.
“No company,” Nova told The Nation, “that is unwilling to pay [factories] enough to make it possible for them to operate safely can claim to be interested in any way in the rights or safety of workers.”
The Times article, also published Wednesday, revealed that at least three supplier companies were using the Tazreen factory during the past year to provide apparel for Walmart and its subsidiary Sam’s Club. According to Greenhouse, the documents “include an internal production report from mid-September showing that 5 of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making apparel for Walmart.” Another Bloomberg article by Dudley yesterday reported that at least five Walmart suppliers used the Tazreen factory.