Walmart fails to meet its own deadlines on Bangladesh factory safety. Is the company due for a coaching?

After the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, Walmart issued a series of bold proclamations. Well, we here at WMTS decided that it might be worth checking in to see if Walmart has lived up to its promises.

On May 14, Walmart put out a release stating that it would “conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100 percent of the factories in Bangladesh that produce goods for the retailer.” The company committed to sharing information on its supplier factories, and even included a deadline: “The company will complete all reviews within six months and will publicly release the names and inspection information on all 279 factories. Walmart began more rigorous inspections under the enhanced safety program earlier this year, and will begin posting results of these inspections on June 1.”

It’s now November 7, and Walmart has yet to post a single inspection result. So that’s five months since it promised to begin posting, and only a few weeks away from when all the inspections are to be completed. Some might consider this an incomplete, but we at WMTS think that an incomplete might be appropriate if the deadlines were imposed upon Walmart by outsiders. But this is a case where Walmart set the rules itself and yet it still hasn’t abided them.

And this failure to meet its own deadlines has other consequences.

Rather than join 100 other global brands and retailers in signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Walmart instead decided to spearhead the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which, unlike the Accord, is non-binding and does not obligate its members to pay for the repairs necessary to safeguard Bangladeshi supplier factories.

The Alliance has published a list of 620 factories used by its signatories. However, the list does not designate which signatory uses each factory. Walmart earlier disclosed that it used 279 factories, so Walmart factories comprise 45% of the list. Walmart has also published a list of factories that had failed its existing inspection process and were therefore unauthorized to produce goods for Walmart. A comparison of the two lists reveals that 48 factories banned by Walmart are on the Alliance list. Since Walmart has not fulfilled its earlier promise of publishing factory results, it’s impossible to know if the banned factories are being used by Walmart or by another signatory.

The Alliance list also indicates if the garment factory is in a multi-factory building or is in a multi-purpose building (i.e., buildings with tenants other than the factory). There are 90 factories that fall into one or both of these categories. Guess what?  According to Walmart’s own “Enhanced Fire Safety Standards for Bangladesh,”  Walmart shouldn’t be using factories like this. The standards state:

Walmart will not permit production in facilities that have one or more of the following structural fire safety characteristics:

  • A residential building that has been converted into an industrial facility
  • Facilities in a multi-story building with a ground-floor marketplace or commercial shops on any floor
  • Facilities in a multi-story building shared with other enterprises under separate ownership

In 2010, we conducted an evaluation focused on fire safety in factories in Bangladesh.  Factories that fell under the following high risk categories were asked to phase out production to safer facilities:

  • Residential buildings converted to factories
  • Multi-story buildings located in market areas
  • Factories in multi-story industrial buildings shared with other factories

So again, Walmart’s failure to disclose information as promised makes accountability an impossibility and makes one wonder if Walmart is still putting Bangladeshi garment workers at risk. It’s only with transparency that there will be accountability.

What do you think?