Three weeks ago, Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh, collapsed in what some have called “the worst industrial accident in the history of the garment industry.” More than 1,100 factory workers died. Sadly, what happened at Rana Plaza is only the latest in a series of disasters in Bangladesh’s $18 billion apparel manufacturing industry. With apparel suppliers under pressure to keep production costs low, factories often cut corners on safety and push the structural limits of their factory buildings, risking deadly accidents.
What does any of this have to do with Walmart?
It turns out Walmart, which is the second-biggest purchaser of apparel made in Bangladesh, had connections to Rana Plaza: One of the factories in the building, Ether-Tex, listed Walmart as a customer it made goods for, and orders for Walmart goods were found in the rubble. This is not the first time Walmart has been linked to workplace disasters in Bangladesh: Walmart-brand apparel was also found in the ashes of the Tazreen factory fire last fall that killed 112 workers.
These accidents are tragic—and they’re rightfully bringing even more attention to Walmart’s behavior overseas. It doesn’t help that Walmart has refused to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, a legally-binding agreement to improve factory infrastructure and establish a meaningful, independent safety inspection program, even as other major retailers like H&M have signed on. What’s Walmart afraid of?
What do you think Walmart should do to help keep workers making Walmart products safe and repair the company’s brand with concerned customers? Sound off in the comments.