For Immediate Release
Bjorn Claeson, 207-262-7277 or 207-949-2375
Wal-Mart's Auditing Program Fails the Test, Report Says
Wal-Mart promises "model" factory, but attempts to suppress report
Nationwide - Today's Business Week.com story entitled, "Wal-Mart Supplier Accused of
Sweatshop Conditions," cites a new study, which exposes the failure of
Wal-Mart's auditing program in a Bangladesh factory. The factory, that
produces Wal-Mart children's wear in sweatshop conditions, forces
workers to lie about working conditions to Wal-Mart inspectors, thereby
avoiding any scrutiny from the company.
Furthermore, Wal-Mart itself has attempted to shield the report from
public view. According to Business Week, "Wal-Mart acknowledges that it
urged SweatFree Communities several times not to publish its report."
According to the study, "Sweatshop Solutions? Economic Ground Zero in
Bangladesh and Wal-Mart's Responsibility," the factory forces workers
to toil marathon 19-hour shifts from 8 am to 3 am in order to finish
Wal-Mart orders with tight deadlines. "If any worker declines
overtime, management harasses him or her mentally or physically," says
Elina, a 22-year old factory helper. The report recounts one incident
of a pregnant worker, who was refused leave, and forced to deliver her
child inside the factory.
"In response to this report and pressure from our organization,
Wal-Mart promises action to make this factory a model for others in
Bangladesh," said Bjorn Claeson, Executive Director of SweatFree
Communities, a worker rights organization that authored the report.
"We welcome Wal-Mart's intervention. As one of the most powerful
companies in the world with enormous presence in Bangladesh Wal-Mart
could have a dramatic positive impact. But the company should
recognize that its own low price demands and just-in-time production
system is the root cause of sweatshop conditions. To bring about
substantive changes in this factory and others, Wal-Mart must be
willing to change its own demands."
To pass Wal-Mart audit inspections, the factory regularly forces
workers to lie to inspectors. Ritu, a 25-year old sewer, explains,
"They always prepare us. Some supervisors ask us to forgive them and
they also ask all the workers to wear proper dresses. The day when the
Wal-Mart representative comes to visit everything changes in the
factory. They behave with us like children, as if they don't know
Adds Parmita, a 22-year old sewer, "If we complain, the next day we
will lose our job. So nobody opens their mouth." Parmita is one of
several helpers interviewed who earns only $20 per month, below the
legal minimum wage. The study estimates the cost of adequate nutrition
for one person to be $27 per month.
This report is not the first time Wal-Mart has been exposed for its
ethical sourcing problems. According to the BusinessWeek story, Ruth
Rosenbaum, executive director of CREA, a Hartford-based socioeconomic
research center that focuses on human and labor rights, said "Wal-Mart
has taken positive steps on environmental and sustainable issues, but
when it comes to working on issues that question its purchasing
practices or where its way of doing business would have to change,
that's where things hit a wall."
"This report once again shows Wal-Mart's failed commitment to ethical
sourcing," said Stacie Lock Temple, Sr. Director for Strategy and
Communications for Wal-Mart Watch, a watchdog organization that
monitors Wal-Mart's business practices. "If Wal-Mart and the Walton
family were truly committed to improving worker conditions in factories
such as this one, the company would be willing to change its excessive
demands and spend the money required to ensure fair working conditions."
"Sweatshop Solutions?" is based on in-depth interviews with over 90
workers carried out by a Bangladeshi non-governmental labor research
organization on behalf of SweatFree Communities from September of 2007
through September of 2008. "Sweatshop Solutions?" is available at: www.sweatfree.org/
SweatFree Communities coordinates a national network of grassroots campaigns that promote humane working conditions in apparel and other labor-intensive global industries by working with both public and religious institutions to adopt sweatshop-free purchasing policies. Using institutional purchasing as a lever for worker justice, the sweatfree movement empowers ordinary people to create a just global economy through local action. Learn more at www.sweatfree.org.