Last November, a massive fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh killed over 100 garment workers. Just months later, in April of this year, Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory, collapsed, killing over 1,100 people in what has been called “the worst industrial accident in the history of the garment industry.” Both tragedies had a Walmart connection: Walmart-brand apparel was found in the rubble at Tazreen, and one of the factories in Rana Plaza listed Walmart as a customer it made goods for.
Following the disasters, at last June’s shareholder meeting, Bangladeshi activist Kalpona Akter addressed Walmart CEO Mike Duke and Chairman Rob Walton and asked them to user their power to improve worker safety in Bangladesh garment factories and prevent tragedies like Tazreen and Rana Plaza from happening again.
Salon has a fantastic new interview with Akter in which she talks about her own experiences working in a garment factory, the threats of violence she continually faces because of her activism, and the responsibility that retailers like Walmart have for these factory disasters. You’ll want to read the whole thing, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt:
A year ago, could Wal-Mart have prevented these disasters?
Of course! These disasters are preventable. These fire accidents, these building collapses, preventable. Because when Tazreen happened, in between there was a six-month gap. [If] these — Wal-Mart — and other corporations made the right decision, they would sign the Accord like right after Rana, right after Tazreen. We could even save these 1,132 lives, and many who lost their limbs and are disabled for a lifetimes. We could save all of them. But they haven’t done it. So they have a direct connection to the disaster.
So do all these companies have blood on their hands?
Of course! All these companies have blood on their hands. Some of them, they are trying to clean it up by signing the Accord and doing right. And some of them are not cleaning because they’re not ready to be in the right. They’re not ready to make this decision, They’re not ready to make this safer for these human lives.
So where would you put Wal-Mart then?
They have blood on their hands, yes.