On the 14th of December, protesters ranging from Respect DC to a speaker from Bangladesh gathered in front of Wal-Mart’s DC lobbying office south of “techworld.” Other organizers included DC Jobs with Justice and SumOfUs. The demand was for Wal-Mart to “end factory death traps’
A woman from Bangladesh who spoke at the rally specifically demanded that Wal-Mart fix the problems at subcontractor factories in Bangladesh, not pull out of Bangladesh. If Wal-Mart decided the fire in Bangadesh was “too hot” for them and just switched their suppliers to another country, no doubt the problems would continue, moved but unchanged, while workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs. If THAT was the desired outcome, they would simply walk out anyway!
On the other hand, Wal-Mart could order the safety problems fixed. Alternately, US consumers could stop buying from Wal-Mart and get clothes from someone else. Companies not following the Wal-Mart “prices-only” strategy might be more inclined to require their suppliers in Bangladesh to follow safe practices. Either way workers would get safety improvements instead of pink slips.
After the speakers, organizers took boxes of signed petitions for Wal-Mart execs to the doors, only to find them locked like the fire escape at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory. Finally someone from Wal-Mart agreed to have security allow two people into the lobby to deliver the boxes of petitions to a Wal-Mart associate whose identity and position were not released.
After the petitions were delivered, the whole group took up the coffins which had been laid in front of Wal-Marts lobbying office and marched around the block, letting people in Chinatown know one more reason not to let Wal-Mart into DC.
background on the factory fire
Wnen the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in Bangladesh caught fire, 112 workers were killed in a shocking replay of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, 101 years ago.
Now, thanks to downward pressure on factory costs from retailers like Wal-Mart, these tragedies are happening again. The Tazreen fire was deadly for many of the same reasons as Triangle Shirtwaist, such as blocked emergency exits. In addition, the bosses reportedly ordered workers back to their sewing machines after the fire alarm went off. At least 600 people have died in garment factory accidents in Bangladesh sincwe 2005 to supply Western retailers like Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart tried to deny any connection to Tazreen Fashions Ltd, until it was proven that one of their contractors had subcontracted the work to this factory. “Faded Glory” labels for Wal-Mart’s private brand of jeans were found in the remnants of the burned factory, still recognizable in some places. Labels for Disney, Dickies and for Sean Combs’s private brand ENYCE were also found. A total of 4 different suppliers selling to Wal-Mart have been found to have subcontracted work to Tazreen.
In the old days, subcontractor shops were called “sweatshops” because to subcontract work was to “sweat it out” no doubt worrying about substandard work for substandard pay.
The subcontracting practices throughout the apparal industry have now become so opaque that Wal-Mart claims to have not authorized Tazreen Fashions to continue making clothes for them, and the owners of the factory, having also dealt with an intermediate contractor, claim not to have known that Wal-Mart was the ultimate destination of their products.
In other words, Tazreen Fashions was a sweatshop in the most literal sense, a subcontractor shop with terrible working conditions, concerned only for their bottom line just like Wal-Mart on the other end of the supply chain. In addition, this blind process is like the use of “cutouts” in the spy trade used to conceal sources and destinations and provide plausable deniability when anything goes wrong.