A fire tore through a garment factory in Bangladesh Nov. 24. With the emergency exits locked or blocked, hundreds of workers — mostly women — were trapped inside the nine-story factory. 128 people were killed.
Inside workers were making clothes for Walmart.
Faded Glory is a Walmart brand, but according to Walmart, a supplier had subcontracted work to the factory without Walmart’s authorization. Walmart is claiming no responsibility for the deaths, but Walmart knew the risk to workers. Inspectors working for Walmart gave the factory “high risk” and “medium risk” safety ratings just last year, and this year’s follow-up report was never performed.
Walmart’s Problems are Global
“If this were an isolated incident of Wal-Mart denying responsibility for the conditions under which the people who make and move its products labor, then the Bangladeshi disaster wouldn’t reflect quite so badly on the company,” columnist Harold Meyerson wrote in The Washington Post Nov. 28.
Meyerson connects the working condition in Southern California warehouses to lax oversight in factories abroad.
“But the very essence of the Wal-Mart system is to employ thousands upon thousands of workers through contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, who are compelled by Wal-Mart’s market power and its demand for low prices to cut corners and skimp on safety. And because Wal-Mart isn’t the employer of record for these workers, the company can disavow responsibility for their conditions of work.
“This system isn’t reserved just for workers in faraway lands: Tens of thousands of American workers labor under similar arrangements. Many are employed at little more than the minimum wage in the massive warehouses in the inland exurbs of Los Angeles, where Wal-Mart’s imports from Asia are trucked from the city’s harbor to be sorted and packaged and put on the trucks and trains that take them to Wal-Mart stores for a thousand miles around.”
The fact is, Walmart’s constant downward price pressure prevents factories from being able to afford necessary safety precautions and forces them to cut corners.
Walmart’s own supply chain auditing has failed to protect workers from being killed in deadly fires.
Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova called Walmart’s auditing process a “joke.” Nova told The Nation that “Walmart’s culpability is enormous. Walmart is supporting, is incentivizing, an industry strategy in Bangladesh: extreme low wages, non-existent regulation, brutal suppression of any attempt by workers to act collectively to improve wages and conditions, This factory is a product of that strategy that Walmart invites, supports, and perpetuates.”