Renee Dudley & Arun Devnath from Bloomberg reported today that Walmart could have prevented the November 24th fire that destroyed a supplier’s plant and killed over 100 workers. In April 2011, Walmart, Gap, JC Penney, Sears, and other stores met with suppliers in Dhaka — the capitol of Bangladesh — to discuss ways to make their facilities safer. The Bangladeshi factory representatives requested that the retailers sign what Bloomberg refers to as a “contractually enforceable memorandum” agreeing to pay higher prices so the 4,500 factories could afford costly fire safety improvements.
Walmart refused, the Gap caved, basically claiming that if Walmart didn’t share the costs, they couldn’t afford it either, and the negotiations fell apart. The Clean Clothes Campaign’s International Coordinator Ineke Zeldenrust observed the gathering and told Bloomberg that Sridevi Kalavakolanu — a director of something Walmart’s corporate office calls “ethical sourcing — refused to pay the extra costs. The Gap then followed suit, claiming (as quoted from the meeting report):
“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.”
Apparently, after Walmart and Gap crapped out, the other retailers followed suit — probably while heaving huge sighs of relief that they wouldn’t have to part with any of their CEOs’ precious profits.
But, if these hugely profitable behemoths supposedly can’t afford to bring their suppliers anywhere close to the safety standards required in first-world countries (or even third-world countries like the US), then where’s the money going to come from?
Fast forward a year-and-a-half later: The factories were unable to implement the requested safety modifications, Tazreen Fashions, LTD burst into flames, over 100 workers died for no reason whatsoever. Apparently, their lives don’t count because they can’t afford to buy Walmart’s clothes on the wages Walmart pays for making them. Meanwhile, American consumers gave Walmart and other stores blockbuster Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales with nary a thought for those who endure harsh working conditions so we can pay pennies on the dollar for cluttering our over-stuffed McMansions with even MORE tawdry clothing and cheap, plastic crap.
Yeah, happy holidays.