Wal-Mart in trouble in Bangladesh…again
In 1992, Dateline NBC aired footage from inside a garment factory in Bangladesh, featuring a Wal-Mart production line where kids as young as seven were operating machines and trimming garments. Wal-Mart argued that the people of Bangladesh are extremely malnourished and that the individuals that appear to be seven-year-old kids are actually adult Bangladeshis whose growth has been stunted.
And a recent headline in Businessweek: “Wal-Mart Supplier Accused of Sweatshop Conditions.”
Basically, the hardworking folks at SweatFree Communities uncovered a factory that supplies Wal-Mart with some of their “Faded Glory” line. The report showed that employees of the factory are forced to work 19-hour days. Wal-Mart has been self-inspecting the factory, but the visits are usually announced and the factory makes preparations and puts on a good show for the inspectors.
I have a few comments and questions:
– Self-policing isn’t the way to go.
– Is this a situation where Wal-Mart is indirectly asking, “Lie to us.”
– Cases of child labor have been greatly reduced in Bangladesh. But kids under 14 (minimum working age) sometimes lie to the factory to get a job. Workers lie to factories; again, a possible lie-to-us situation. Factories lie to retailers. When people are desperate for a job, factories are desperate for work, and brands are desperate for cheap products, this kind of thing is bound to happen.
– How ironic is the name of Wal-Mart’s brand “Faded Glory?”
– It will be interesting to see if Wal-Mart and Sweat Free Communities are able to work together to right this situation. I kind of feel like they won’t be able to. And this is the problem. I don’t think progress can be made in worker’s rights unless retailers and activists work together.
The press release from SweatFree Communities is below the cut.
For Immediate Release
October 10, 2008
Contact: Bjorn Claeson, 207-262-7277 or 207-949-2375
Interviews and Photographs available upon request
New Study Exposes Failure in Wal-Mart’s Auditing Program,
Finds Sweatshop Conditions in Bangladesh Factory
Wal-Mart promises “model” factory, but attempts to suppress report
Today’s Business Week.com story entitled, “Wal-Mart Supplier Accused of Sweatshop Conditions,” cites a new study, which exposes the failure of Wal-Mart’s auditing program in a Bangladesh factory. The factory, that produces Wal-Mart children’s wear in sweatshop conditions, forces workers to lie about working conditions to Wal-Mart inspectors, thereby avoiding any scrutiny from the company.
Furthermore, Wal-Mart itself has attempted to shield the report from public view. According to Business Week, “Wal-Mart acknowledges that it urged SweatFree Communities several times not to publish its report.”
According to the study, “Sweatshop Solutions? Economic Ground Zero in Bangladesh and Wal-Mart’s Responsibility,” the factory forces workers to toil marathon 19-hour shifts from 8 am to 3 am in order to finish Wal-Mart orders with tight deadlines. “If any worker declines overtime, management harasses him or her mentally or physically,” says Elina, a 22-year old factory helper. The report recounts one incident of a pregnant worker, who was refused leave, and forced to deliver her child inside the factory.
“In response to this report and pressure from our organization, Wal-Mart promises action to make this factory a model for others in Bangladesh,” said Bjorn Claeson, Executive Director of SweatFree Communities, a worker rights organization that authored the report. “We welcome Wal-Mart’s intervention. As one of the most powerful companies in the world with enormous presence in Bangladesh Wal-Mart could have a dramatic positive impact. But the company should recognize that its own low price demands and just-in-time production system is the root cause of sweatshop conditions. To bring about substantive changes in this factory and others, Wal-Mart must be willing to change its own demands.”
To pass Wal-Mart audit inspections, the factory regularly forces workers to lie to inspectors. Ritu, a 25-year old sewer, explains, “They always prepare us. Some supervisors ask us to forgive them and they also ask all the workers to wear proper dresses. The day when the Wal-Mart representative comes to visit everything changes in the factory. They behave with us like children, as if they don’t know anything.”
Adds Parmita, a 22-year old sewer, “If we complain, the next day we will lose our job. So nobody opens their mouth.” Parmita is one of several helpers interviewed who earns only $20 per month, below the legal minimum wage. The study estimates the cost of adequate nutrition for one person to be $27 per month.
This report is not the first time Wal-Mart has been exposed for its ethical sourcing problems. According to the BusinessWeek story, Ruth Rosenbaum, executive director of CREA, a Hartford-based socioeconomic research center that focuses on human and labor rights, said “Wal-Mart has taken positive steps on environmental and sustainable issues, but when it comes to working on issues that question its purchasing practices or where its way of doing business would have to change, that’s where things hit a wall.”
“This report once again shows Wal-Mart’s failed commitment to ethical sourcing,” said Stacie Lock Temple, Sr. Director for Strategy and Communications for Wal-Mart Watch, a watchdog organization that monitors Wal-Mart’s business practices. “If Wal-Mart and the Walton family were truly committed to improving worker conditions in factories such as this one, the company would be willing to change its excessive demands and spend the money required to ensure fair working conditions.”
“Sweatshop Solutions?” is based on in-depth interviews with over 90 workers carried out by a Bangladeshi non-governmental labor research organization on behalf of SweatFree Communities from September of 2007 through September of 2008. “Sweatshop Solutions?” is available at: www.sweatfree.org/sweatshopsolutions.
SweatFree Communities coordinates a national network of grassroots campaigns that promote humane working conditions in apparel and other labor-intensive global industries by working with both public and religious institutions to adopt sweatshop-free purchasing policies. Using institutional purchasing as a lever for worker justice, the sweatfree movement empowers ordinary people to create a just global economy through local action. Learn more at www.sweatfree.org.
They just can’t seem to keep their nose clean. I’m surprised that Melissa hasn’t jumped all over this one yet. If you’ve ever been to Wal-Mart, don’t let her find out.