business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning reports that three years after the deaths of more than 1,100 employees exposed dangerous labor conditions in Bangladesh, prompting a number of retailers - including Walmart - to pledge to improve safety conditions in factories there, those promises largely have not been kept.

The Times writes that human rights groups say that "safety, labor and other issues persist in Bangladesh and other countries where global retailers benefit from an inexpensive work force. A series of new reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a coalition of trade unions and other research and advocacy groups, has put a new spotlight on the conditions. In Bangladesh, the group says, tens of thousands of workers sew garments in buildings without proper fire exits. In Indonesia, India and elsewhere, pregnant women are vulnerable to reduced wages and discrimination. In Cambodia, workers who protested for an extra $20 a month were shot and killed."

Yesterday, the story continues, "the Wage Alliance released its latest report, which accuses Walmart of benefiting from forced labor and other abusive practices in a number of Asian countries. In Cambodia, for instance, workers at factories who make products sold at the company are required to work 10 to 14 hours a day in sweltering heat, without access to clean drinking water or breaks..."

Walmart responded to the allegations with a statement maintaining that "its standards for suppliers 'specifically address working hours, breaks, the cultivation of a safe and healthy work environment, and freedom of association.' The retailer said that it does not own or operate facilities in Cambodia or Bangladesh, but that it expects suppliers to 'uphold these standards in the factories from which they manufacture products'."
KC's View:
I'm sure that the retailers involved in this study made steps to improve the situation, but the sad reality may be that the organizations with which they are doing business in these countries simply may have a different definition of how to treat people humanely. Additionally, the retailers have to deal with the fact that how people are treated thousands of miles away will get played out on TV and computer screens here in the US ... and certain things are not accessible.

On the other hand ... my cynical side tells me that at least some of the people who express outrage only do so to the point where they can keep buying t-shirts for $5. Their definition of hardship might be having to pay any more than that.