I briefly mentioned the implications of the Walmart supply chain, and how the insistence of keeping prices low has wide-ranging impacts across the globe. Apparently some of those impacts are completely tragic.
A day after shoppers searched for bargains and some workers protested during Black Friday, a garment factory fire in Bangladesh killed hundreds. The fire in Dhaka, the capital, started on a lower floor and worked its way up, with workers unable to escape through insufficient and dangerous emergency exits. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, one which led to a raft of worker safety laws in America.
It turns out that the Bangladesh factory made American clothing, including clothing for Walmart’s Faded Glory brand.
NGOs are slamming Walmart following a Saturday fire that killed at least 112 workers at a Bangladesh factory supplying apparel to the retail giant. While Walmart says it has not confirmed that it has any relationship to the factory, photos provided to The Nation show piles of clothes made for one of its exclusive brands [...]
But in a Monday interview, Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova said Walmart’s “culpability is enormous. First of all they are the largest buyer from Bangladesh” and so “they make the market.” Nova said Bangladesh has become the world’s second-largest apparel supplier “because they’ve given Walmart and its competitors what they want, which is the cheapest possible labor costs.”
“So 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,” Nova told The Nation. “This factory is a product of that strategy that Walmart invites, supports, and perpetuates.” The WRC is a labor monitoring group whose board is composed of students, labor organizations, and university administrators.
The factory had previously received an “orange” rating from Walmart, denoting a high-risk work environment. But the company never took it a step further, allowing the safety violations to persist, leading to this tragedy. Workers in Bangladesh had spoken out for years about low pay and unsafe working conditions, to no avail. Now, they are protesting the event, with 15,000 workers marching today through Dhaka. Employers closed 200 factories today in anticipation of the unrest.
You can draw a through-line between the low prices at Walmart stores and the conditions in this factory. And Walmart’s massive size makes them completely culpable for those working conditions. Worker dissent here at home can have a powerful impact on the entire world, in other words.
Photo by Fahad Faisal under Creative Commons license.