Report: Only Some Progress In Making Sure Clothing Factory Workers Are Treated Like Humans

Image courtesy of Cheri Sundra

Three years ago, after a building collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,100 of the people who were making our clothes, major global retailers pledged to make sure that the people who work for their suppliers are paid a living wage and have safe workplaces. A new report shows that while some things have improved at factories that supply retailers like Walmart and H&M, there are still serious labor and safety issues in these companies’ supply chains.

In 2013, pledging to protect workers in developing countries, particularly Bangladesh, was hot, with some retailers signing a legally binding accord to inspect and correct safety issues at factories that supply their stores.

Separately, Walmart performed its own inspections, making the results public. Yet according to the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a coalition of unions and worker advocates, global retailers’ supply chains are so broad and complex that many workers are still left behind.

Walmart, for one, began its own programs to inspect supplier factories and make sure that employees have basic safety protections like access to fire exits in case the facility becomes a lint-filled tinderbox. Yet the Alliance says that factories in Bangladesh that supply Walmart force workers to sew for 10-14 hours every day in hot rooms, with no breaks or access to drinkable water. Depending on the weather, the Alliance says, “mass fainting spells” happen.

When contacted about the Cambodia allegations, a Walmart representative told the New York Times that the company doesn’t own facilities in Cambodia or Bangladesh, which is true: the problem is the network of contractors and subcontractors that bid for the work and then find the cheapest labor possible.

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance had harsh words for Swedish company H&M, too, with a representative noting, “At this point, we do not see H&M working in a way that would prevent another Rana Plaza.” That was the building collapse that killed 1,100 factory workers.

Precarious Work in the Walmart Global Value Chain [Asia Floor Wage]