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In an April 2011, meeting about safety in garment factories in Bangladesh, executives for Walmart and the Gap discussed the possibility of paying suppliers enough more to enable upgrades on things like fire safety. To give one completely random example of something that killed more than 100 workers recently. But Walmart and the Gap said no, safety for Bangladeshi garment workers was too expensive:
Sridevi Kalavakolanu, a Wal-Mart director of ethical sourcing, told attendees the company wouldn’t share the cost, according to Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, who attended the gathering. Kalavakolanu and her counterpart at Gap reiterated their position in a report folded into the meeting minutes, obtained by Bloomberg News.

“Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories,” they said in the document. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

So what "director of ethical sourcing" means in this context is apparently "director of insisting that Walmart has ethics while rejecting any actual having of ethics." And while Walmart and the Gap said "it is not financially feasible" to have clothes manufactured in factories that are not death traps, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger disagreed, and signed the agreement. That kind of pressure is what's needed—as long as Walmart is willing to buy clothes manufactured under terrible conditions, conditions will stay terrible:
Fifty percent of the Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet legally required work safety standards and those that have improved working conditions have done so under pressure from Western apparel makers, said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non- governmental organization founded by two former garment child workers to promote safer factories. Bangladesh’s labor law requires safety measures such as fire extinguishers and easily accessible exits at factories.
This is Walmart's (and the Gap's, and many other familiar retailers') commitment to giving you the lowest damn price while keeping executive pay and profits high: They'll kill for it. They will knowingly endanger the lives of thousands of workers because paying enough for those workers' direct employers to install fire extinguishers and exits is just not consistent with their real corporate values. And while things are better for their workers in America, it's not because they value American lives more. It's just because, as few rights and little power as workers have in the United States, it's more than they have in Bangladesh.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:26 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If I posted what I thought should happen... (6+ / 0-) Mal-Wart's stores, in this context, I'd probably get a warning, or maybe even banned for a time. So I'll leave it up to everyone's imagination.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:33:05 AM PST

    •  Customers can insist on the "Fair Trade" tag (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      on all foreign produced food and clothing merchandise.

      Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement known as FAIRTRADE indicating the certification advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, and gold.

      The "Fair Trade" movement tags everything from bananas to shirts.

      Wages, hours, safety stands -- all are covered in the standard agreements.

      And it gets inspected at the factory.

      How hard was that ?????

      •  Some of the partners (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        of the Fair Trade USA don't add up for me.  Why is it so impossible to find information about the source of the raw materials and the factories?  Are we just supposed to see the tag and not care?

        And by paying extra to farmers for cotton and paying garment workers extra we expect the price to go up.  Happy to pay it.  But 3X comparable products on US shelves?  What are the economics involved?  Why can I not find any "contact us" or "about us" with one of the garment retailers?

        I'm ready to support this to the hilt, but I really think these guys have got to do better if they want to move this forward.

        I hopped on thinking I would buy a bunch of stuff and now I'm just turned off.  Other vendors might be fine.  Maybe there are just a couple of oddball ones.

        I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

        by Satya1 on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 07:34:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Fair Trade USA is just now going wide. (0+ / 0-)

          expect this to turn into another of the ubiquitous Smart Phone Apps.

          Scan in the bar code, find out how the Third World workers are being treated.

          Yeah, that's faster/easier/more reliable than trying to do the research yourself.

          •  It's a little weird to find a retailer (0+ / 0-)

            that doesn't mention ANYTHING about sources of material or garment assembly factories.  They should be sharing that info as part of their marketing.  It makes me ask, are they stupid or are they hiding something?

            I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

            by Satya1 on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 09:28:09 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Another diary on this topic from earlier today (7+ / 0-)

    The diary and comments are worth reading for those interested in this issue.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:35:47 AM PST

  •  Without help in the form of Laws from the (5+ / 0-)

    Fed. Govt. US workers would be in the same situation.  Those "unnecssary regulations" that the business class is always complaining about are there for a reason.  And despite the health/safety rules/laws almost 5000 US workers die on the job yearly. See AFL CIO's info on Workers Memorial Day which is April 29 the day OSHA became a law.

    Give peace a chance get up and dance... Alvin Lee/Ten Years After

    by Blue Collar on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:45:00 AM PST

  •  Shades of (4+ / 0-)

    The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Nowadays  workers globally are just a fluid source of slave labor. Corporations can just move their sweatshops to another more desperate place if labor organizes or those pesky human rights affect their profit. Cheap stuff is just not with the price workers including those in the US are paying to keep Wal-Mart or any big retail giant profitable. In the end we all pay the price.

  •  Isn't that up to the Bangladeshis? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, erush1345

    Somehow the factory owners bear no responsibility for adhering to Bangladeshi law and the Bangladeshi government has no responsibility to enforce those laws. Fire extinguishers and fire exits aren't exactly expensive items, even Bangladeshis can afford to put them in.

    History will be kind to us because we will write it.

    by Sky Net on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:12:20 PM PST

    •  What universe do you live in? (3+ / 0-)

      Fire extinguishers and fire exits are expensive- by Bangladeshi standards.

      The factory owners are making peanuts by Western standards, and are being pounded to cut costs

      The only reason anyone makes clothes in Bangladesh is because of the low cost of doing business

      the only reason things will change is because of pressure from Western corporations

      Welcome to Earth! What planet are you from?

      •  Fire exits are doors (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FG, erush1345, wilderness voice

        They can afford doors in Bangladesh.  Fire extinguishers, too.  You think the factory owners are destitute?  I've visited plenty of factories overseas, they have these things.  You think they need whitey to tell them how to make a fire exit?

        History will be kind to us because we will write it.

        by Sky Net on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:06:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I'm shocked, shocked I tell you--- (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catesby, winsock, xaxnar

        You mean that the goods are being sold at unsustainable low prices?  

        Walmart and friends are despicable, but they are only part of the picture.  Surely the factory owners and management are moral agents. And we who buy clothing are moral agents as well.

        the only reason things will change is because of pressure from Western corporations
        I disagree.  Things will change when Bangladeshi owners start selling for a price that will cover fair wages and safe working conditions.  For that to happen, it may require workers to demand it.  That probably won't be pretty, but dying in a fire isn't either.

        On second thought, it probably won't ever happen.  Corporations are people, my friend.  Sociopathic people.  And factory owners in Bangladesh probably are too.

        Note to self, stop buying clothes.

      •  They aren't from Earth (0+ / 0-)

        (R's) take those tired memes and shove 'em, Denise Velez Oliver, 11/7/2012.

        by a2nite on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 07:38:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You're forgetting that humans are assholes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bear83, sethtriggs

      If this factory were in Michigan the unionized [Republican] firefighters and their union would have been there to battle this fire and maybe only half the non-union garment worker women would have burned to death.

      No Jesus, Know Peace

      by plok on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:32:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  this is exactly right: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      winsock, lcbo, sethtriggs
      Somehow the factory owners bear no responsibility for adhering to Bangladeshi law and the Bangladeshi government has no responsibility to enforce those laws.
      Factory owners know they can get the work if overhead is low.  The corrupt gov officials know they can get the bribes and the country gets exports for its accounts.  If any of the powers that be had any ethics they would recognize their responsibilities.  But they don't.

      The working poor in the factories have no Bangladeshi authorities on their side.  Only citizen activism can help them.

      Of course it also might help them if folks of good will in the West can find ways to exert pressure for fair labor conditions and workers rights.

      I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

      by Satya1 on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 07:27:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Makes sense. Why ask investors (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to forgo a few bucks of dividends.  And to make executives chip in out of their multimillion-dollar bonuses to ensure the safety of workers (and foreign ones at that)?  Simply ridiculous.  It's a free market, they can work in those factories or not.  Welcome to Wal-Mart capitalism.

    Private health insurance: a protection racket without the protection.

    by rustypatina on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 02:05:45 PM PST

  •  I am so ashamed. Today I broke my years-long (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Belle Ame, BeninSC

    personal boycott of Walmart because I had to get an insulin prescription filled for my pootie (details in this diary, if you're interested) and not only was Walmart the most affordable place to get it - it was the ONLY place that carried it among the reasonably-priced and close at hand pharms that I tried.

    This is just one example of how the corporate pigs* take over every aspect of your life, even when doing one's best to avoid them.

    I thought of the dead in Bangladesh when I made my way across Walmart's vast floor of cheap crap to find the pharmacy, and for reason this latest bit of news doesn't surprise me.

    *apologies to actual pigs.

    Handmade holiday gifts from Jan4insight on Zibbet. Get 10%off everytime with coupon code KOSSACK.

    by jan4insight on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 02:09:57 PM PST

    •  Hope things go better for LuvLee, jan. (4+ / 0-)

      Don't feel bad, your priorities are straight, indeed! Best wishes to you!

      "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's CREATION." _ Jonathan Larson, RENT -9.25, -8.82

      by BeninSC on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 08:55:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  did you try Costco? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      homo neurotic

      The Costco pharmacist always special ordered me supplies and meds for my geriatric dog who required a pharmacy all her own. And that was BEFORE they started carrying pet medicines.

      From fluids to syringes to drugs, I always had what I needed for her. Years later, I still fill all my dogs' prescriptions at Costco. In fact, I just refilled one at an out-of-state Costco. I called the pharmacy, and they just needed to do a little extra computery-paperwork stuff.

      Anyhow, ask the pharmacist.

      Oh, and cheaper than any other company too, including the online folks.

      © grover

      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 08:33:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Framing on this: The brands do not find it (10+ / 0-)

    financially feasible to make investments in the safety of workers, not here in the United States (where they refuse to build factories and hire workers as they don't want to pay benefits and maintain safety-code compliant bricks and mortar installations on US soil) and not overseas (where they outsource jobs so that they don't have to pay American workers American wages).

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:20:35 PM PST

  •  The inside-out world of "corporations are people": (6+ / 0-)
    Sridevi Kalavakolanu, a Wal-Mart director of ethical sourcing

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson

    by rfall on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:29:02 PM PST

  •  "a Wal-Mart director of ethical sourcing" oxymoron (6+ / 0-)

    yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:31:17 PM PST

  •  And this is why Unions are important (10+ / 0-)

    and why OHSA type rules and regulations are important. And why out sourcing to the lowest common denominator is quite frankly an evil.

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:32:39 PM PST

  •  Money, money, money... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noor B

    If that's all you see and seek in your eyes...

    Then you don't understand the consequences of your insatiable desire for money.

    Why hello there reality, how are you doing?

    by Future Gazer on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:33:08 PM PST

  •  "ethical sourcing" = supply chain shackles (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kpardue, Noor B, a2nite, xaxnar, homo neurotic

    yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:34:54 PM PST

  •  These assholes will have a rough... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... judgment day defending this one to St. Peter.

    No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

    by Magster on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:37:02 PM PST

  •  The next factory fire (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    will be in Michigan, and the blood will be on Snyder's hands.
    The next factory fire tragedy will occur in Michigan while they hand out cash tax credits for the unborn.

    No Jesus, Know Peace

    by plok on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:37:18 PM PST

  •  Walmurder needs (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ShoshannaD, Marihilda, homo neurotic

    to face a real national boycott.

    Between the starvation wages they pay their employees----and their insistence that their workers on--foreign soil --are not even worth the expense of the most basic of safety measures---they need to go down.

    Rigght here---on US soil.

    Makes you wonder how safe people are in any of their stores---too.

    "If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns."--Cheryl Wheeler

    by lyvwyr101 on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:47:00 PM PST

  •  I wonder what WalMart shoppers would say (0+ / 0-)

    of they were polled...

    "Would you be willing to pay a few cents more for everything in your cart so that workers in Bangladesh had a better/safer work environment?"

    I'm guessing they would cop the same attitude as the Director of Ethical Outsourcing", except with pithier language.

    Oregon:'s cold. But it's a damp cold.

    by Keith930 on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 06:52:19 PM PST

  •  Screw Walmart (4+ / 0-)

    Seriously. I never bought stuff there because there aren't many near by, now I won't. I really could care less what more I hear good or bad. They've made billions enough before anyone said something.

  •  We can't compete with the subsidence wages paid (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Abelia, homo neurotic, sethtriggs

    to workers in the 3rd World, but my goodness, there is no reason we should allow the import of food, goods and services into our nation that do not at least meet our own worker safety and environmental protection laws and regulations.

    To deny imports that do not meet our own standards will not level the playing field, but it certainly will tilt it back some, benefiting not only agricultural and manufacturing workers abroad, but those here at home.

    Form follows function -- Louis Sullivan

    by Spud1 on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 07:04:36 PM PST

  •  Walmart Obamacare (4+ / 0-)

    Paid by American Taxpayers:

       Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, plans to begin denying health insurance to newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post.

        Under the policy, slated to take effect in January, Walmart also reserves the right to eliminate health care coverage for certain workers if their average workweek dips below 30 hours — something that happens with regularity and at the direction of company managers.


        Labor and health care experts portrayed Walmart’s decision to exclude workers from its medical plans as an attempt to limit costs while taking advantage of the national health care reform known as Obamacare. Among the key features of Obamacare is an expansion of Medicaid, the taxpayer-financed health insurance program for poor people. Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program, these experts said.

        “Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

    We don't need to even look to Bangladesh to see just how rotten Walmart is.  And then there is the question of why the ACA set this up for Walmart and others to pass the bill to us.

    As Marcy Wheeler says:

    Walmart, after all, was one of the partners behind the push for ObamaCare. In fact, as things started to drag in summer 2009, WalMart partnered with Center for American Progress and SEIU to try to nudge the process along. While the letter signed by the heads of all three organizations preaches of “shared responsibility,” it also talks of removing “the burden that is crushing America’s businesses” and an employer mandate that does not “create barriers to hiring entry level employees” (as workers forced into part time unskilled positions are sometimes facetiously called).

    Walmart gave ObamaCare a lot of credibility back in 2009. It was clear then what the payoff was going to be. And they’re cashing in now: by making the poverty wages they pay their employees the trick to get us to pay their employee health insurance, rather than the billionaire Waltons who can afford it.

    I guess that’s what Walmart believes constitutes “shared responsibility.”

    Bangladesh is just the tip of the iceberg...
  •  I can't boycott either of them (0+ / 0-)

    because I've never shopped in either.  You couldn't drag me into a Walmart if I was starving and the only food was there.

  •  Shopping at Walmart, trading lives for 'savings' (0+ / 0-)

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 08:20:48 PM PST

  •  Where are the so called "Christians" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on this issue? Oh, that is right, they are lined up at Walmart on Black Friday ready to kill each other to get to the product of Asian sweat shops.

    If you don't want to be kept in the dark and lathered with horse dung, stop acting like a mushroom.

    by nomorerepukes on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 08:23:50 PM PST

  •  Kohl's Croft & Barrow brand -- (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homo neurotic, sethtriggs

    also made in Bangladesh.

    That's not Wal-Mart.

    I thought Kohl's was an upscale store. I love their clothes, and I've bought that brand for several years. Now I feel creepy about owning them.

    "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." -- Mark Twain

    by Brooke In Seattle on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 09:18:19 PM PST

  •  Corporations are people = they are murders (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homo neurotic

    and should go to trial
    jailed . . . and worse.

    I can get behind the death penalty for corporations who murder people.

    Bumper sticker seen on I-95; "Stop Socialism" my response: "Don't like socialism? GET OFF the Interstate highway!"

    by Clytemnestra on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 09:30:21 PM PST

  •  I've never heard anyone who shops at wal-mart (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homo neurotic, ranklehiway

    express concern for any of wal-mart's many evils.

    they don't care - and when the shop at wal-mart they ensure that wal-mart doesn't have to care.

    big badda boom : GRB 090423

    by squarewheel on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 09:46:01 PM PST

  •  "it is not financially feasible..." (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    alternate meaning: don't even THINK about asking us to internalize the full costs of our business-doing. we like our profits fat and our losses socialized.

    "everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey." -john lennon

    by homo neurotic on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 11:51:49 PM PST

    •  ps (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      some seriously heartbreaking stuff. and must in no uncertain terms be upheld as reflective of (as pointed out quite well above) a shocking moral / ethical failure (and a seemingly systemic one --- good lord, you get the clear sense that what brought this about is encoded in the organizations' dna ...)

      "everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey." -john lennon

      by homo neurotic on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 11:56:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yeah, I guess...but a couple of things come to (0+ / 0-)


    Comparing Tommy Hilfiger with Wal-Mart is hardly apples-to-oranges.  A high margin premium brand has a lot more room in its price structure than Wal-Mart does.

    But the real question is this:

    If these factories are breaking the law, where is the local enforcement? Or (and -- hey --- wouldn't this have been a nice consideration when there were still enough American workers to notice) trade laws that forbade products from companies that didn't meet certain standards?

    Wal-Mart can afford to pay prices that everybody else pays, even if those prices go up.  Wal-Mart can't exactly pony-up money if, say, Target, Costco and the local Farm 'n Fleet don't do the same.  Low margins don't provide a lot of room for that.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:22:31 AM PST

  •  this will continue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as long as we support it.

    there needs to be a standard for corporations and conglomerations who sell this stuff.  They should have  to have labels saying that their goods were manufactured in buildings that meet strict safety codes, that their workers ages are certified and that the working conditions are up to a certain standard.  Any corporation that wants to sell international goods here in the US would have to tell the government where the goods were made so that we could send inspectors to those countries to inspect the working conditions before allowing those goods to be sold here in this country.  Of course that means more government oversight, but that also means more jobs.  

    Or we could all insist on products MADE IN AMERICA.  Unless you don't mind killing a few people to get a $10 shirt at Walmart or a $15 shirt from the Gap.  

    Oh and this means too that the Gap is selling the same stuff that you can get at Walmart, so if you're really that cheap, just go to Walmart.  You get a better bargain for the number of people killed.

  •  Merry Christmas Sweetie (0+ / 0-)

    This shirt I got you from Walmart just cost me $10 and the lives of 100 Bangladeshi garment workers.  Wear it in good health.

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