Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
November 19, 2013

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1 in 6 Bangladesh Clothes Factories Not Safe

One in Six Walmart Clothing Factories in Bangladesh Failed Basic Fire and Other Safety Checks

An independent safety review carried out for US retail giant Walmart has revealed that 32 of the 200 factories from which it buys clothes in Bangladesh were failing to meet basic fire, structural, and electrical safety standards, despite the carnage wreaked by the Rana Plaza fire in April this year, when more than 1,100 workers died after the factory near Dhaka collapsed, and the Tasreen textile factory fire, which claimed the lives of 117 people last November.

The inspectors found serious failings requiring urgent remedial action in 16 percent of the factories used by Walmart. Work to rectify the failings has since been carried out at most of them. However, production is still temporarily halted at two factories, which have failed to make the improvements required for basic safety since the inspections started in May following the Rana Plaza disaster.

Bangladesh is a major source of cheap garments for US and European companies including Walmart, Carrefour, and El Corte Ingles. Earlier this week, the UN’s International Labor Organization said Bangladesh must improve conditions in its garment industry if it is to maintain economic growth.

The Bangladeshi garment sector employs about 3.6 million people, mostly women, making it the second largest garment manufacturer after China. But it pays the lowest wages of its all regional export competitors such as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, therefore making its low costs attractive to Western discount retailers such as Walmart. The wages, among the lowest worldwide, have sparked violent unrest in recent weeks in the country.

Walmart signed up to the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a weaker version of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, to which European companies such as Sainsbury’s, Primark, and H&M have put their names.

Walmart has published the survey of 75 inspections of its factories on its website.

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safeNsane
safeNsane
November 20, 2013 7:50 am

1 in 6 isn’t good odds when you consider the tragic incidents that have happened recently but it does make me wonder what responsibility the retailers take.  From my understanding they are independent shops who work for many different retailers or clothing companies. If some retailers apply pressure on some of them to improve safety and other don’t will anything change?  As long as the shop can keep enough contracts to make money will they care if one retailer moves away from them?

JonathanL
JonathanL
November 20, 2013 9:39 am

Another point to consider is that many of these factories are in congested areas where a fire could spread very quickly between buildings and could lead to catastrophic loses of property and life.  I would hope any retailer would be willing to have a slightly raised cost if it meant protecting lives.

Sheh
Sheh
November 22, 2013 8:41 am

Such is the growth in demand for cheap wear that Bangladesh’s clothing industry is forecast to quadruple in size over the next 20 years. It already employs 4m, mostly women, in a country with 31m households. Unless productivity rises sharply, millions more women will be drawn from their homes into the workplace, a drastic change in a conservative society.GOVERNMENT should take serious setps to cater this fire problem otherwise whole revenue generating industry would collapse.

Sheh
Sheh
November 22, 2013 8:43 am

@reply to jonnathon
If the government forces the factory owners to increase pay, they will be even less willing and able to invest in making their premises less hazardous. The most promising way to make the country’s clothing industry both safer and more profitable is to boost productivity and output at the larger and generally better-run factories, and drive the smaller, dodgier ones out of business.

Sheh
Sheh
November 22, 2013 8:47 am

Currently Western companies who are major purchasers of the sector’s products – like U.S.-based giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), France’s Carrefour (CARR.PA) and Spain’s El Corte Ingles – are in discussions with the Bangladesh government, companies and unions on compensation for workers who died in the April fire.The discussions are being conducted under the auspices of the European Union which, like the United States, has warned that it must take concrete steps to improve how the industry operates. But talks have failed to produce an outline agreement satisfying all participants.Some U.S. companies say they prefer to negotiate directly while manufacturers in Bangladesh… Read more »

SunitaT
SunitaT
November 27, 2013 2:34 am

I heard of this catastrophe then; it was huge carnage claiming 1700 lives. In a country like Bangladesh 1700 workers’ lives mean thousands of households affected because there is often one bread winner for one household, sometimes even more than one household. I wonder if anyone knows who took the responsibility for the losses.

SunitaT
SunitaT
November 27, 2013 2:34 am

@ safeNsane, that’s what these giant retailers do and are very good at; finding markets with low wages and per hour labor. As long as they are finding their retail products at a cheap rate, they don’t bother about safety standards. Retailers like Walmart do the same in North Africa and other parts of the planet where per hour labor cost is low. Both the retailers and the manufacturers will find other agreements if deprived of the current agreements. There must be something binding from the governments of those countries therefore.

StaceyE
StaceyE
November 30, 2013 2:41 pm
Reply to  safeNsane

@ SafeNSane
That is a very good point, if only one retailer tries to make a difference and the others only show indifference, these factories will do nothing to improve the conditions. Why would they want to spend the extra money to make just one of their customers happy when the rest don’t care. Sad.

StaceyE
StaceyE
November 30, 2013 2:42 pm
Reply to  JonathanL

@ JohnathonL
I would hope the same thing, but I think it would take pressure from all the retailers they service to really make a difference.

StaceyE
StaceyE
November 30, 2013 2:44 pm
Reply to  Sheh

@ Sheh
I agree with you. Ideally it would make sense for the Bangladesh government to take steps to decrease the fire hazard…but do you think it will ever happen?

StaceyE
StaceyE
November 30, 2013 2:47 pm
Reply to  Sheh

@ Sheh
This is a good idea for the most part. I don’t know if I would want to necessarily drive the smaller companies out of business, but maybe instead, provide them with incentive to improve the fire safety in their factories.

StaceyE
StaceyE
November 30, 2013 2:48 pm
Reply to  SunitaT

@ SunitaT
It is very sad when you look at it from that perspective. Not only do the unsafe conditions effect the workers but also their families.

safeNsane
safeNsane
December 2, 2013 7:35 am
Reply to  SunitaT

I’m going to try to stop short of calling out individuals and assigning guilt but I see where in a very short time the big retailers/manufacturers in first world countries are going to run out of third world countries for cheap labor.  The countries that are climbing over each other to get these manufacturing plants are learning quickly that it’s not all sunshine and good times.  I feel for these areas because we went through similar growing pains much earlier and have the benefit of knowing the history to protect to some extent. 

Burysafetybloke
Burysafetybloke
December 6, 2013 5:27 am
Reply to  Sheh

84% of Walmart’s clothing factories ahve achieved the required standard of fire protection sound like a good news headline to me.Given the local environment of low-cost operations I think that this achievement is notable.I wonder what percentage of UK factories are truly fire-safe?

batye
batye
December 12, 2013 4:59 am
Reply to  StaceyE

it sad reality… but even in Toronto, Ontario, Canada  we have simular problems in China town and garment district… Co. try to make a killing overlooking fire safety… sad…

StaceyE
StaceyE
December 31, 2013 11:15 am
Reply to  batye

@ batye
I really think it is happening everywhere; people trying to cut corners to save expense. They always think it won’t happen to them until it does.

batye
batye
January 2, 2014 12:20 am
Reply to  StaceyE

the problem is corporate greed and bad economy… where Co. willing to show profit stained in blood…