Walmart cuts ties with supplier after its garments found in shop where fire killed 112 workers

Photo: International Labor Rights Forum

At The Nation, Josh Eidelson writes about the Walmart apparel found in the ashes after a garment shop fire that killed at least 112 workers in Bangladesh. Walmart now claims it has severed ties with the supplier with whom they had contracted—they claim this company violated Walmart policies by subcontracting to the Tazreen Fashions factory where the fire took place.

The NYT reports that thousands of garment workers protested Monday in Bangladesh, demanding justice for the dead, and safer working conditions for the living.

More at International Labor Rights Forum:

In addition to finding evidence that the factory produced Walmart’s Faded Glory brand, researchers found over a dozen other brand logos on clothing and documents in the factory, including Ace, C&A, Dickies, Fashion Basics, Sean Combs Co.'s Enyce brand, Edinburgh Woollen Mill's brands P.G. field and Country Rose, Hippo, Infinity Woman, Karl Rieker GMBH & Co., Kebo Raw, Kik, Piaza Italia, Soffe, and True Desire.

For several years, the International Labor Rights Forum has been tracking and responding to factory fires in Bangladesh’s garment industry. This is the most deadly factory fire in the history of the apparel industry in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second largest apparel exporter after China. Export data has indicated that Walmart is the second largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh, after H&M.

First reports suggest the fire was started by an electrical short circuit. Faulty wiring is a common cause of factory fires in Bangladesh. According to fire department operations director, Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, the factory had no emergency exits. Workers unable to escape were burned alive. Others jumped to their deaths to escape the flames. The death toll continues to rise as rescue workers plow through the remains of the devastated factory.



  1. If Wal-Mart wants to pretend it has a policy enforced against sub-contracting among manufacturers in Asia then I demand that Santa is real and shits easter eggs in his off season.

    Likewise if they want to pretend the prices/volumes they demand from manufacturers so they can still offer crap at low low everyday yet still magically profitable prices don’t contribute to this kind of thing Imma also lay claim to the Holy Land in the name of Spiderman. 

    So tis true. Santa is real, he lays eggs in a wide range of colours and answers only to Spiderman who rules the North Pole from his lair in Jerusalem. There is nothing stranger than news about Wal-Mart.

    1. Why would you doubt that Wal-Mart has a strict “don’t fuck up and make us look bad” policy for suppliers?

      A substantial amount of nodding, winking, and politely looking the other way and whistling so long as the deliveries are on time and on budget is also to be expected; but I would assume that the policy of dropping suppliers foolish or unlucky enough to be caught doing something excessively visible is rigorously enforced.

      1. That sounds about right. Everything that company does is designed around exploiting the little guy.

        The Waltons are basically that guy who comes around your garage sale and tries to talk you down on an item that’s already $1. They are the dude on craigslist who tries to convince you that your motorcycle is actually worth half of what your’e asking for it. The are the descendants of the great American low-baller, a cynical contemptuous creature motivated solely by avarice.

  2. It’s been very interesting to see/hear the various stories on this yesterday and see which media outlets left out the Wal-Mart connection, and which ones bothered to mention it.

  3. I seem to recall a time when Sam Walton wanted to buy American as much as possible and be willing to pay up to 5% higher costs for doing so.

    Boy, they’ve come a long way since he died.

    1. That would be exactly zero.

      Honestly though, I should say that my wife and I shop there but only because we’re poor and I’m a disabled vet who doesn’t get any benefits from the military as of yet (twenty years and counting!).

      1. Thank you for reminding me why, whenever I criticize Wal Mart’s business practices, I don’t criticize people who shop there. Wal Mart, after all, can be picky about where it buys the items it sells. The people who shop there often don’t have the same luxury.

  4. How is H&M’s relationship with Bangladesh? I don’t know if I should be ashamed to buy there pretty often haha. I see articles about H&M requesting their suppliers to raise minimum wages on Google but I don’t know if that is proper indication of the relationship.

    1. H&M’s CEO met with the Bangladeshi PM to request an increase in the minimum wage a couple of months ago. I’m sure it looked good in the European press, but whether H&M is really willing to absorb that extra cost (as reduced profits) or pass them onto the consumer (in higher prices) remains to be seen. If not, then it’s all theatre.

  5. Another libertarian paradise! Regulations on electrical wiring, fire exits and fire suppression in industrial buildings? Bad for businesses! Imagine the cost just to open a clothing sweatshop with all that overhead! The free market will make it All Right In The End!

      1. I thought of the same incident when I heard about this story. The difference, though, is I suspect there will be little or no efforts to prevent another tragedy such as this one happening in Bangladesh, or any other place where there’s cheap labor.

  6. I applaud Walmart’s actions here. This factory made Walmart look bad, and they deserve to be ignored and shunned in their time of need, after they willingly exploited themselves.

    The solution to all of this, of course, is to only buy from factories in a country that has no independent media.

  7. Something for everyone to read:

  8. I made the decision ages ago to forego walmart. I don’t regret it. It always made me feel icky. I feel sorry for the people who have to shop there. Or do they really have to shop there? There must be alternatives. Is target or whoever that much more expensive?

    1. But is Target any better?  I don’t know their requirements of suppliers, but I can’t see them being all that much better.

  9. Thanks for posting this, Xeni. It’s an important issue. 

    I spent some time in Dhaka with an independent trade union in the garment sector about ten years ago. Bangladesh had a booming RMG sector even then (it almost collapsed after the US started bombing Baghdad  – an event that occurred whilst I was in Dhaka – but has come back stronger than ever as Chinese wages have risen), and I can recall the trade union head showing me a long list of factory fires that resulted in fatalities for the previous 12 months. I forget how many fires there actually were (the list ran to several pages), but even though I had been working in the labour rights area in Asia for several years I remember the shock I felt at the alarming regularity. None were anywhere near as deadly as the one reported above, but over the course of a year the numbers added up. 

    During that time I talked with hundreds of garment workers (almost all of them young women), and the great majority of them said that a fire in their workplace was the thing they feared most. But, and this is the thing, they (and the union) felt powerless to prevent them. This latest fire (10 years later) shows that i) those fears are the result of a good grasp of reality and ii) workers, unions and others have had little success in the face of factory owners who demonstrate a blatant disregard for fire safety (and workplace safety in general). 

    However, the lack of action on factory fires in Asia’s manufacturing hubs goes back further than ten years. I wonder how many readers of Boing Boing recall two fires in Asia during 1993 that claimed 275 lives. One was the Zhili Handicraft Factory fire in Shenzhen, China, which killed 87. The other was at the Kader Toy Factory in Bangkok, which killed 188. These happened 20 years ago! And we’re still reading of fires that kill over 100 workers. It’s little wonder that people fighting for better factory conditions lose heart…

    The Bangladesh RMG sector is booming. It contributes about 15% to the country’s GDP and about 75% of total export income (figures may be a bit rubbery, but it’s in the ballpark). The government is outrageously incompetent and corrupt. I was in Dhaka again last week, and although there is a sense the economy is growing locals feel there is little hope of real development with the current levels of corruption. Rising export income and a corrupt government is not the equation most conducive to improving workplace safety. 

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