June 06, 2016
Author: Christopher Cox
On Monday, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance released a significant report entitled “Precarious Work in the Walmart Global Value Chain.” It is the latest in a series of reports on the maritime industry, GAP, and H & M. The reports drew the attention of The New York Times under the headline: “Retailers Like H&M and Walmart Fall Short of Pledges to Overseas Workers.”
Coverage also includes:
Simply put, the investigations call into question the glossy reports from retailers, like Walmart, who tout items like “Women’s Economic Empowerment” in their annual Global Responsibility Report.
The Asia Floor Wage report is no mere passing fancy. It is the result of intense labor:
This report presents new research on violations of international labour standards in Walmart garment supplier factories. Information was collected through interviews and focus group discussions including 344 workers engaged in Walmart supply chains in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India; and an in-depth case study, spanning 8 months, of working conditions in an Indonesian Walmart supplier employing 3,800 Indonesian contract workers. (p. 4)
From the report, The New York Times article (cited above) draws the following claims:
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 flurry of reports from Asia Floor Wage are in the run up to the annual International Labour Conference, beginning this week, of the International Labour Organization, an arm of the United Nations. Important international conventions and norms around labor, supply chains, and ethics hang in the balance.
Clearly, empty are the pledges from many retailers to improve conditions, both in safety and in wages, in Bangladesh and elsewhere since Rana Plaza. Counting on the corporations simply to do the right thing is not enough. The body count since Rana Plaza gives evidence to that. The lives of these workers are worth more than our having cheap racks of clothes. What are you going to do about it? Start by taking the St. Vincent Pledge.