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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Unbelievable Walmart

Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

NNPA Columnist

The other night I was watching television and a commercial came on.  It  was from Walmart and it was attempting to convey what a wonderful company they  would like us to believe that they are.  I went running to the rest  room.

In April of this year, a building (Rana Plaza) collapsed in Bangladesh.   It was a building containing garment factories.  There had been  evidence that this building was in danger of collapsing but the factory owners  insisted that the workers go to work or face termination.  More than 1,100  workers perished when the building imploded.

Disasters such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh are far from  unusual.  In November 2012, a factory fire resulted in the deaths of 112  workers.  Instead of swift action being taken to address the conditions  under which the workers labor, the owners are regularly given a pass by a  Bangladeshi government in the pockets of the garment industry executives.   Workers who protest are regularly fired or worse.  Extra-judicial  intimidation and killings are used against union organizers and, for that  matter, any worker who stands their ground.

Did I forget to mention that these are the factories that produce for markets  in the USA?  Did I also forget to mention that Walmart is largely founded  on its relationship with these contractors?  Along with other major  retailers, they insist on low cost and quick movement, regardless of the impact  on the workers.

In the aftermath of the Bangladesh disasters an effort was undertaken to  create what is known as “The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.”   This agreement, to which 17 companies (largely from Europe) are  signatories, represents a commitment to a legally-binding safety program for  workers in the Bangladesh garment industry.  Guess the name of one of the  companies that chose not to sign on?  Yes, you are correct:   Walmart.

What was striking was that Walmart and several other U.S.-based companies  suggested that such an agreement was unnecessary and that they would take  independent—and non-legally binding—steps to ensure safety.  This is from  the same company that offered up this syrupy commercial about how compassionate  they are.  Why should we believe Walmart?  If they took no steps prior  to the disasters and now do not wish to be a party to a legally binding  agreement on safety for the workers, why should anyone believe that they are  going to act differently?

The answer is simple:  you shouldn’t.

 Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy  Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.

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