Walmart, the third largest public corporation and mega retail chain in the world, has refused to sign an agreement with other retail chains that will improve safety and working conditions for factory workers overseas. Walmart wants to do safety their own way - as if that been working for them. Last month over 1,300 factory workers died when a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed. It was a tragic and very sad day for the world. And the horror dragged out for weeks for family members looking and hoping for some sign that their missing loved ones would be found alive beneath the tons of Rana Factory’s crashing concrete.
The new agreement Walmart was asked to sign covers: “independent safety inspections with public reports, mandatory repairs, and renovations and a vital role for workers and their unions,” The Ethical Trading Initiative, which crafted the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh along with trade unions IndustriALL and UNI Global, writes. These billion dollar companies who signed, would need only put in $500,000 per year to maintain these safety standards.
“At the heart of the agreement is the commitment to Bangladesh’s Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety, and for companies to share in the responsibilities for providing a safe environment for workers.”
This seems reasonable, yes? No, not for Walmart.
A statement from Walmart said: “The company, like a number of other retailers (very few and poor excuse), is not in a position to sign the IndustriALL accord at this time (not in the position? Walmart is in the position to do anything they want).
Benetton, H&M, Zara, Next, and PVH (Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) are just some of the worldwide retail chains that have signed the safety agreement. The deadline for signing the pac has not passed.
“While we agree (meaning, ‘we really don’t agree.’) with much of the proposal (only what’s beneficial us), the IndustriALL plan also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.” (No one tells us what to do)
Walmart wants to do it their way. It seems their way gives Walmart loopholes. The Guardian reports:
“the Walmart deal is not legally binding, does not require the company to offer financial support for fire and safety regulations or blacklist factories unwilling to comply.”
Common Dreams reports:
This, of course, is not the first time Walmart has refused to improve the well being of workers in factories.
In 2011, several major western retailers, lead by Walmart, rejected a proposal made by a group of Bangladeshi and international unions that proposed a way to make Bangladesh’s garment factories safer through establishing an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh “with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions.”
At the time, Walmart’s representative said it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments.”
Not financially feasible? Does Walmart believe people of the world to be stupid?
Months before the Rana Factory collapse, on November 24, 2012 a fire in a Bangladesh clothing factory resulted in the death of 112 workers. When the fire alarm went off, bosses told employees to return to their stations and the exit door was locked to keep them from leaving. When it became clear there was a true emergency, there were no fire escapes or exists in the eight-story building, and many victims jumped to their deaths. Initially Walmart said it could not confirm that it had ever sourced apparel from the factory, however photos taken by Bangladeshi labor activists showed Walmart-branded clothing present in the factory after the fire, and it was later proven that Walmart did source the apparel. They lied.
It’s indeed shameful, disgusting and shocking the way Walmart has continuously ignored the safety and welfare of their employees not only in Bangladesh and overseas, but here in America. Wikipedia lists massive amounts of offenses on its Criticism Of Walmart page (highly recommended to read), and in the Employee and Labor Relations paragraph on Walmart’s main Wikepedia page.
I’m not sure what it’s going to take for Walmart to care enough about human lives, to change their ways. As it stand now, rather than having a slogan that says, “Save More – Live Better,” perhaps their logo should say, “Save More – Die Horribly.”
(The author, Leslie Salzillo, is an activist, political commentator, diarist and visual artist. Salzillo often writes diaries in Daily Kos, and began contributing to AddictingInfo.org in March 2013)