Retailers Like H&M and Walmart Fall Short of Pledges to Overseas Workers
After more than 1,100 deaths exposed dangerous labor conditions in Bangladesh in 2013, brands like H&M, Walmart and Gap were among the most powerful companies that pledged to improve the safety of some of the country’s poorest workers.
But human rights groups say that three years later, those promises are still unfulfilled, and 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.
The brands say that in recent years they have aggressively pushed stronger labor protections and vastly increased their monitoring of the factories that make their products. They have also made significant structural and fire repairs at many factories in Bangladesh.
But even the retail groups say that more improvement is needed, a message underscored in the new reports. Worker advocates say that progress on improving conditions at the factories has been too slow, and that some of the world’s biggest companies continue to benefit from unfair and dangerous labor practices.
“There have been substantial safety renovations in factories that have unquestionably made those factories substantially safer,” Scott Nova, the executive director of the labor monitoring group Worker Rights Consortium, said of the work in Bangladesh. “At the same time, it’s also true that there have been unacceptable delays.”
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Written by Rachel Abrams