The death of 120 garment workers in a fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplied U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart (the largest buyer of garments from Bangladesh) as well as Ikea and other major retailers, is likely to lead to a global push for genuine reform of the labor practices of big brands and retailers.
Scott Nova from the Workers Rights Consortium is quoted on Democracy Now
“It really is an extraordinary achievement, in an ironic sense, that the U.S. apparel industry has managed to replicate early 20th century conditions that were so brutal and cruel to workers now again here in 2012 in factories in places like Bangladesh. It is a shameful record for the U.S. apparel industry. which has a notoriously poor fire-safety record and has long suppressed worker’s attempts to improve their conditions'
The factory where the workers died is operated by Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which supplies Wal-Mart, Ikea and other major retailers in the United States and Europe. The factory made polo shirts, fleece jackets and t-shirts.
On Monday, 2 days after the fire Walmart claimed it did not have a current relationship with the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh. Only after labor activist Kalpona Akter produced a picture of herself holding up clothing with Walmart's exclusive "Faded Glory" label found at the factory did Walmart admit that the factory was still a supplier; claiming it didn't know that was the case.
Scott Nova from the Workers Rights Consortium is quoted as saying:
"Walmart’s foundational corporate principle, one they prosecute with religious fervor, is cost reduction through absolute control of their supply chain and production system. Today, however, they want us to believe that they have so little control over their supply chain that they do not even know which factories are manufacturing their clothes. The bottom line is that Walmart was making goods at the Tazreen factory, but failed to protect the rights and safety of the workers making those clothes. Retroactively blaming this on 'unauthorized' subcontracting is not going to fly. "The Triangle Shirtwaist fire [in New York City in 1911] galvanized a reform movement in the U.S. that transformed an industry of dangerous sweatshops into one defined by safe workplaces and decent wages. Now, global outsourcing has allowed retailers like Gap and Walmart to turn back the clock to 1911, recreating in places like Bangladesh the brutal conditions and rock-bottom production costs that prevailed in the U.S. at the time of the Triangle fire. "Wages of 18 cents an hour and cruel working conditions have led to waves of mass protest and unrest among Bangladeshi apparel workers. The government and the industry there cannot acknowledge that the unrest is a product of their own policies of low wages and lax regulation, so they must find scapegoats. Unsurprisingly, they chose to target labor rights advocates, branding them subversives, accusing them of fomenting the violence, and in the worst cases attacking them physically.