In the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that killed nearly 1,200 people, retailers have faced mounting pressure to sever ties with manufacturers that violate worker safety.
Last month, Walmart released a list of factories it claimed to have barred from supplying merchandise because of repeated safety violations and other problems. But according to U.S. customs records and statements from sources, at least two of the factories on the list have continued to send massive shipments of clothing to the retail giant in recent months, ProPublica has reported.
In June of 2011, Walmart claimed it banned the Bangladeshi factory Mars Apparels from supplying the retail giant. But during the past year, Mars has repeatedly shipped sports bras to Walmart by the ton, with the most recent shipment being in May — almost two years after Walmart claimed it had stopped doing business with the factory. A second factory from Bangladesh, Simco Dresses, was also supposedly banned, but continued to ship to Walmart in Canada well into March.
International labor watchdogs have pressured retailers to sign an agreement that requires them to pay for safety improvements to Bangladeshi factories, but many of the biggest retailers in the U.S. have refused, claiming they are working on their own safety improvements — ones that are not legally binding.
“We think the safety plan that we’ve put into place already meets or exceeds the [other] proposal and is going to get results more quickly,” Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardner said.
Dan Schlademan of the United Food and Commercial Workers said that the shipments from the barred factories prove that the retail giant’s commitment to safety is superficial. “It’s either a question of Walmart just telling people what they want to hear, or it’s that Walmart has created a supply chain system that they have no control over,” he said.
“What Walmart is doing at the moment is nothing but saving its own skin,” Reaz Bin Mahmood of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said. “As a responsible business partner they should stay with us and help improve working conditions for the safety and security of workers.”