Published: December 5, 2012 in the New York Times
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Documents found at the Tazreen apparel factory in Bangladesh, where 112 workers died in a fire nearly two weeks ago, indicate that three American garment companies were using the factory during the past year to supply goods to Walmart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary.
The documents — photographed by a Bangladeshi labor organizer after the fire and made available to The New York Times — include an internal production report from mid-September showing that 5 of the factory’s 14 production lines were devoted to making apparel for Walmart.
In a related matter, two officials who attended a meeting held in Bangladesh in 2011 to discuss factory safety in the garment industry said on Wednesday that the Walmart official there played the lead role in blocking an effort to have global retailers pay more for apparel to help Bangladesh factories improve their electrical and fire safety.
Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop group based in Amsterdam, said Walmart was the company that “most strongly advocated this position.”
The meeting was held in April 2011 in Dhaka, the country’s capital, and brought together global retailers, Bangladeshi factory owners, government officials and nongovernment organizations after several apparel factory fires in Bangladesh had killed dozens of workers the previous winter.
According to the minutes of the meeting, which were made available to The Times, Sridevi Kalavakolanu, a Walmart director of ethical sourcing, along with an official from another major apparel retailer, noted that the proposed improvements in electrical and fire safety would involve as many as 4,500 factories and would be “in most cases” a “very extensive and costly modification.”
“It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments,” the minutes said.
Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, said the company official’s remarks in Bangladesh were “out of context.”
“Walmart has been advocating for improved fire safety with the Bangladeshi government, with industry groups and with suppliers,” he said, adding that the company has helped develop and establish programs to increase fire prevention.
Ms. Zeldenrust said, “Everyone recognized that fire safety was a serious problem and it was a high time to act on it, and Walmart’s position had a very negative impact.” She added, “It gives manufacturers the excuse they’re looking for to say, ‘We’re not to blame.’ ”
Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group based in Washington, was also at the meeting. He said that upgrading the factories’ safety would cost a small fraction of what Walmart and other retailers pay for the clothing they import from Bangladesh each year.
Bloomberg News first reported details of the Dhaka meeting on Wednesday.
Walmart has indirectly acknowledged that the factory, Tazreen Fashions, outside Dhaka, was producing some of its apparel, saying in a statement that a supplier had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.” In that statement, issued two days after the Nov. 24 fire, Walmart said, “We have terminated the relationship with that supplier.” Walmart has declined to name the supplier.
After Walmart was shown some of the documents from the factory on Wednesday, Mr. Gardner replied in an e-mail. “As we’ve said, the Tazreen factory was de-authorized months ago,” he wrote. “We don’t comment on specific supplier relationships.”
The photographed documents from the factory indicate that three suppliers — the International Direct Group, Success Apparel and Topson Downs — used the factory to make shirts, shorts and pajamas for Walmart. One document, written in July, provides product descriptions from Success Apparel for Walmart’s Faded Glory house-brand shorts. A photo taken inside the factory after the fire showed a pair of Faded Glory shorts.
The documents indicate that Success Apparel often worked through Simco, a Bangladeshi garment maker.
Mr. Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium said the documents raised questions about Walmart’s statements after the fire.
“It was not a single rogue supplier as Walmart has claimed — there were several different U.S. suppliers working for Walmart in that factory,” Mr. Nova said. “It stretches credulity to think that Walmart, famous for its tight control over its global supply chain, didn’t know about this.”
Mr. Nova works closely with the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and made the factory documents available.
Investigators also found apparel made for Sears and Disney inside the factory after the fire. Both companies said suppliers had given orders to the factory without their knowledge and authorization.
Mr. Gardner said accredited outside auditors had periodically inspected the factory on Walmart’s behalf. A May 2011 audit gave the factory an “orange” rating, meaning that there were “higher-risk violations” and that it would be re-audited within six months. If a factory gets three orange ratings over two years, it loses Walmart’s approval.
A follow-up audit in August 2011 for Walmart gave Tazreen an improved “yellow” rating, meaning “medium-risk violations.”
Working Families United for New Jersey, Inc. has accomplished a great deal over the past two years with regard to issue education, engaging families in the democratic process, expanding our diverse network of community allies, and continuing to empower the public to make their voice heard on important policy matters. For our coalition to continue forging ahead, the participation and financial support of coalition partners remains essential.
Our coalition continues to raise the bar for success by broadening our outreach capacity and engaging the community as never before. This year's plan integrates creative approaches to voter registration, which includes promoting electoral participation at the high school level. Our coalition's agenda includes the ongoing fight for good jobs, promoting businesses that raise community standards of living, utilization of social media, support for comprehensive immigration reform, and a permanent fix for calculating our state's minimum wage.
To continue our progress forward and to celebrate our many accomplishments, Working Families United for New Jersey, Inc. cordially invites you to attend an evening reception on March 19th• Sponsorship levels for the event are $10,000, $5,000, $2,500 and $1,000. Individual tickets are $250 per person, and all proceeds will go towards financing coalition efforts. Details for the event are below. To RSVP, please fill out the linked form.
Please send all checks to Charles N. Hall, Jr., 1576 Springfield Avenue, Maplewood, NJ 07040.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Rutgers Labor Education Center
50 Labor Center Way
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
$250.00 Per Person
President Charles Hall addressed the Board and stated the following:
“I would like to thank President Hansen, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Perrone and the Executive Officers for their vote of confidence in me. I would also like to thank the entire UFCW Executive Board.
I would like to thank the RWDSU District Council President Stuart Appelbaum for his leadership, guidance, confidence and friendship. I would also like to thank my fellow RWDSU officers for their support.
I realize that there are a lot of good leaders in the RWDSU and the UFCW. It is an honor and a privilege to be elected as a Vice President of the UFCW.
I would be remissed if I did not give a special word of gratitude to my mentors, Charlie N. Hall, Sr., Lenore Miller, Frank Bail and Linder Cromer.
I pledge to this Board I will give 100% + trying to improve the lives of workers and advance the goals and objectives of the UFCW to build a stronger labor movement.
Finally, in any decision I make, I will first ask myself the question of “what is best for the worker”.