75 down, only 200 more to go: An update on Bangladesh factory inspections

A few weeks ago, WMTS reviewed Walmart’s progress in meeting its own self-imposed deadlines on disclosing garment factory inspections in Bangladesh. Based on its poor progress, we felt that the company might be due for a coaching.

Well, Walmart finally published some information on inspections. (If you recall, Walmart said it would begin posting inspection results on June 1.) Walmart posted the results for 75 factories – that’s only a fraction of the 279 factories the company uses in Bangladesh – and the information released was sorely lacking. Scott Nova from the Worker Rights Consortium said he was “struck by how little real information they are providing. They offer no specifics whatsoever as to the dangers workers face in these factories; all we get is a scoring system that is largely opaque.”

Even with this incomplete information, WMTS is able to investigate one of the questions raised in our earlier post: is Walmart using factories that its own policies indicate that it shouldn’t?  The list of factories published by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety includes information indicating 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). Walmart’s policies state that it shouldn’t be using factories that fit these criteria.

Of the 75 factories inspections posted, there are three factories—Arunima Apparels, Fortune Apparels, and Saad Musa Fabrics—that Walmart audited and gave passing grades that we at think raise some questions about Walmart standards and/or the audits.

According to the Alliance list, Arunima Apparels, Fortune Apparels, and Saad Musa Fabrics are in Multi-Factory Buildings. Why does this matter? Well, according to Walmart’s website:

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

Yet these three factories are being used by Walmart and all have passing scores on the audit. (See the audit results here: Arunima Apparels , Fortune Apparels , Saad Musa Fabrics )

And adding insult to injury, the Alliance factory list indicates that Saad Musa Fabrics is in a Multi-Purpose Building. And yet Walmart’s own policies 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

Are we missing something, or should Walmart not be using these factories? And if it is using them, then they shouldn’t have passed the audit, right?

Keep in mind this analysis is based upon the results for roughly 25% of the factories Walmart purports to use in Bangladesh. And as it’s also worth remembering the human cost of inaction and lack of oversight in Bangladesh – particularly as the one year anniversary of the Tazreen fire recently passed.

What do you think?