At least one positive thing emerged from the Tazreen Fashions tragedy in Bangladesh. After a devastating fire claimed the lives of at least 112 garment workers in November, Walmart is tightening its grip on its supply chain. In a 10-page letter sent Tuesday to suppliers of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the world’s No. 1 retailer says it will adopt a “zero tolerance” policy on subcontracting without authorization, effective March 1. The stricter regulation will replace Walmart’s previous “three strikes” rule.
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The big-box store also says it plans to make public a list of factories that haven’t been given the green light to manufacture goods for Walmart. Another change? Starting June 1, suppliers must station an employee in countries where they subcontract, rather than rely on third-party agents to ensure compliance.
Walmart says it plans to publish a list of factories that haven’t been authorized to manufacture goods for the retailer.
“We want the right accountability and ownership to be in the hands of the suppliers,” Rajan Kamalanathan, Walmart’s vice president of ethical sourcing, told the Associated Press. “We are placing our orders in good faith.”
Kamalanathan added that Walmart executives are considering a fund or line of credit for factories who want to improve factory safety, although nothing has been decided yet.
Not everyone is buying the retailer’s mea-culpa tour, however. Scott Nova, executive director at Workers’ Rights Consortium, told reporters that the company needs to pay its suppliers more so they can cover the costs of repairs and improvements. Walmart’s moves show a “great deal of pressure in the wake of public scrutiny,” he said. “[But] the upfront commitment from brands and retailers is essential if we are going to see real change.” Walmart also needs to disclose a list of all its suppliers, as well as the results of its factory inspections, so they can be monitored by independent groups, he added.
Walmart says it has no plans to sign a first-of-its-kind contract governing fire-safety inspections at thousands of Bangladeshi factories.
Nova’s group is among a consortium of labor organizations trying to get retailers and brands to sign a legally binding, first-of-its-kind contract governing fire-safety inspections at thousands of Bangladeshi factories. Signatories would agree to publicly report fire hazards at factories, pay factory owners more so they can afford repairs, and provide a minimum of $500,000 over two years for safety improvements. They would also be liable when there’s a factory fire. So far, only PVH Corp., which owns the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, and Tchibo, a German coffee retailer that also sells clothes, have signed on, but only on the condition that other brands sign on, as well.
Walmart says it has no plans to sign the contract, even though it’s second only to H&M in the number of clothing orders it places in the South Asian nation. (H&M isn’t budging, either.)
But fire-safety is a paramount concern for a country with infamously poor oversight. Building fires have led to the deaths of more than 600 garment workers in Bangladesh since 2005, according to research by the International Labor Rights Forum. Of the fires that took place, 80 percent was the result of faulty wiring.
[Via Associated Press]