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In an April 2011, meeting about safety in garment factories in Bangladesh, executives for Walmart and the Gap discussed the possibility of paying suppliers enough more to enable upgrades on things like fire safety. To give one completely random example of something that killed more than 100 workers recently. But Walmart and the Gap said no, safety for Bangladeshi garment workers was too expensive:
Sridevi Kalavakolanu, a Wal-Mart director of ethical sourcing, told attendees the company wouldn’t share the cost, according to Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, who attended the gathering. Kalavakolanu and her counterpart at Gap reiterated their position in a report folded into the meeting minutes, obtained by Bloomberg News.

“Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories,” they said in the document. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

So what "director of ethical sourcing" means in this context is apparently "director of insisting that Walmart has ethics while rejecting any actual having of ethics." And while Walmart and the Gap said "it is not financially feasible" to have clothes manufactured in factories that are not death traps, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger disagreed, and signed the agreement. That kind of pressure is what's needed—as long as Walmart is willing to buy clothes manufactured under terrible conditions, conditions will stay terrible:
Fifty percent of the Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet legally required work safety standards and those that have improved working conditions have done so under pressure from Western apparel makers, said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non- governmental organization founded by two former garment child workers to promote safer factories. Bangladesh’s labor law requires safety measures such as fire extinguishers and easily accessible exits at factories.
This is Walmart's (and the Gap's, and many other familiar retailers') commitment to giving you the lowest damn price while keeping executive pay and profits high: They'll kill for it. They will knowingly endanger the lives of thousands of workers because paying enough for those workers' direct employers to install fire extinguishers and exits is just not consistent with their real corporate values. And while things are better for their workers in America, it's not because they value American lives more. It's just because, as few rights and little power as workers have in the United States, it's more than they have in Bangladesh.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 11:26 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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