Aug 20 4:41 PM

The 6 articles you should read on retail labor abuses in Bangladesh

Joel Van Haren/Al Jazeera

We return with a new episode this Tuesday, August 20th about factory conditions in Bangladesh and U.S. retailers' supply chains. 

Here's some background before our #madeinbangladesh episode. That is human ash on the cloth strips above from the Bangladesh factory.

From the Boston Globe in November 2012

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A hooded Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from Disney. Children’s shorts with Walmart’s Faded Glory label. Clothes with hip-hop star Sean Combs’ ENYCE tag.

The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire over the weekend was used by a host of major US and European retailers, an Associated Press reporter discovered on Wednesday from clothes and account books left amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd.

From NYT in December 2012

Documents uncovered at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died in a fire two weeks ago indicate that not one but two American apparel makers supplying goods for Walmart were using the factory around the time of the fire.

Two days after the Nov. 24 fire, Walmart said in a statement that it had stopped authorizing production at Tazreen and that despite that move, a single supplier, later identified as Success Apparel, had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.”

Then in April 2013, a factory fire in Bangladesh's Rana Plaza killed 1,129 garment workers. 

From Reuters in June 2013

Bangladesh's exports rose 16.3 percent in June to $2.7 billion on the year, boosted by stronger clothing sales, an export body said on Tuesday, as the low-cost country retains its allure for cost-crunching global retailers despite deadly incidents.


Last week, the United States cut off long-time trade benefits for Bangladesh in a mostly symbolic response to the garment industry conditions that have cost more than 1,200 lives in the past year.

The U.S. move does not directly affect Bangladesh's clothing exports, since garments are not eligible for U.S. duty cuts. But it could prompt similar action by the European Union that would have a bigger impact, as Bangladesh's clothing and textiles exports to the EU are duty-free.

From TIME | World in July 2013

Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 24 claimed the lives of 1,129 garment workers and opened the world’s eyes to the true cost of cheap, throwaway fashion. A public outcry in the wake of the disaster, in the Savar neighborhood outside the capital, Dhaka, led to calls for codifying labor rights to prevent similar tragedies occurring in the future. But some of the world’s largest retailers have been reticent, putting profits before safety, according to rights activists. On Wednesday, Walmart, Gap and other major high-street brands revealed their latest proposal. Worker groups, however, remain unconvinced. 

From the NYT in July 2013

The American plan commits $42 million for worker safety, including inspections and an anonymous hot line for workers to report concerns about their factories, and more than $100 million in loans and other financing to help Bangladeshi factory owners correct safety problems. But unlike the accord joined mainly by European retailers that was unveiled on Monday, the plan lacks legally binding commitments to pay for those improvements.

Some labor rights groups estimated that it would cost as much as $3 billion to bring Bangladesh’s garment factories up to an acceptable safety standard.


[The American] plan calls for “shared accountability” in responding to those safety problems: the companies would work closely with the factory owners, the government of Bangladesh and various government and aid agencies to figure out ways to finance safety improvements. If serious safety problems were discovered at a particular factory, the plan’s director would inform the Bangladeshi government, the factory owner and what the group calls the factory’s “worker participation committee,” a group to be elected by a factory’s workers.

ProPublica investigated customs data (June 2013) from Walmart shipments and quoted a union leader on the barred factories:  

Dan Schlademan, a United Food and Commercial Workers leader who directs the union's Making Change at Walmart campaign, said the shipments from barred factories show that Walmart's program is hollow.

"It's either a question of Walmart just telling people what they want to hear," he said, "or it's that Walmart has created a supply chain system that they have no control over."

Additional reading: 

"Bangladesh's Tazreen Fire Is Followed By Further Garment Factory Blazes," Business Week, December 27, 2012. 

"Survivor of Bangladesh's Tazreen Factory Fire Urges U.S. Retailers To Stop Blocking Worker Safety," Democracy Now, April 25, 2013.



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