Today marks one year since the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building, which killed more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers. As we have noted before, Walmart, the second-biggest purchaser of apparel made in Bangladesh, was listed as a customer for a factory located in the building, and orders for Walmart goods were found in the rubble. Sadly, Walmart’s response to the tragedy has been woefully inadequate.
Following the collapse, which the U.S. State Department has called “the worst industrial disaster in the history of the garment industry,” Walmart’s peers in the retail industry and other stakeholders have taken action to compensate victims and ensure that another Rana Plaza never happens again. Most importantly, a number of major retailers, including H&M, have joined with NGOs and worker organizations to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally-binding agreement to improve factory infrastructure and establish a meaningful, independent safety inspection program with worker participation.
Meanwhile, Walmart has refused to sign on to the Accord, despite requests from public officials, investors, and faith groups to do so. Instead, it launched its own parallel, company-driven organization with lower standards and no binding agreements. In addition, while the company has said it is undertaking factory inspections, they have occurred slowly and well behind schedule, and have been criticized for their lack of substance or diligence.
This is not a surprise to some observers, who point out that Walmart has historically failed to commit to fixing systematic safety problems in Bangladeshi factories. But it is certainly shameful given the egregiously high human cost of this disaster. Bangladeshi garment workers deserve much better from Walmart.