Almost two months after a building collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,127 garment workers, reports have surfaced that claim Walmart has continued to accept shipments from garment factories supposedly on its blacklist over safety and quality concerns, according to ProPublica.
The largest retailer in the world, which was one of several major Western brands that refused to sign on to the Accord on Bangladesh Safety, released a list of rejected garment factories in May that the company says it refuses to do business with due to repeated safety and labor violations. However, according to import and export data, Walmart has been receiving product shipments from two of the factories on the list, Mars Apparels and Simco Dresses.
Mars was supposedly dropped in 2011, although it was still shipping garments to Walmart as recently as last month, while Simco was placed on the list in January, even though it continued to ship to Walmart Canada into March of this year.
Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardner told ProPublica that "Mars shipments were allowed because of confusion over whether Walmart's standards applied. Mars didn't produce garments with a Walmart house brand but instead with a Fruit of the Loom label." So, Gardner said, "it wasn't clear if Mars needed to meet Walmart's standards or Fruit of the Loom's."
The supposed black-listed factories aren't the first questionable outposts that have continued to service the industry. Late last month, US bades VP Corp., the largest apparel maker in the world and parent to brands such as North Face, Timberland and Nautica cleared a factory for work despite inspector reports that cited cracks in the walls. The factory also serviced Walmart and Inditex, the parent company of Zara, though Walmart marked the factory as unsafe after the May audit.
However, VF chose to stay with the factory, saying it wanted to "stay and improve" working conditions, Reuters reported. "We are in daily contact with the facility and VF's leadership is closely monitoring the status in this facility and others in our Bangladesh supply chain."
Still, with only 200 trained building inspectors in Bangladesh, many question whether major brands can accurately monitor their supply chains. For Walmart, the brand has in the past had problems with unapproved outsourcing and in turn a long, unclear paper trail of where their garments are actually coming from. While the brand has has assured that its own Bangladesh improvement plans are far better and more efficient than those proposed and signed by over 30 major retail brands, the ProRebublic report begs to differ.
"It's either a question of Walmart just telling people what they want to hear," said Dan Schlademan, a United Food and Commercial Workers rep who oversees the union’s Make Change at Walmart Campaign, "or it's that Walmart has created a supply chain system that they have no control over."
Tesco, the world's No. 3 retailer, has stopped sourcing clothes from Bangladesh after discovering serious problems with the safety of a factory owned by Liberty Fashions. "We immediately made the owners aware of our findings, and tried to find an alternative to ceasing production of Tesco products on this site. We are disappointed that this was not possible.”
While brands continue to navigate the web of factories and new regulations in Bangladesh, local and international governments are pressing forward. Bangladesh's Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, agreed yesterday to sign the Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA) with the United States. Trade between the two countries totaled $5.4 billion in 2012.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives has approved a defense authorization bill requiring, “Military-branded garments made for sale at base retail stores operated by the Department of Defense should uphold our nation’s core values and meet international labor standards.” While military uniforms are produced in the US, military-branded apparel can be produced anywhere and garments with US Marines slogans and logos were found in the rubble of the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 workers late last year.