Hey, Walmart, I’m Not Buying It

This morning I read this article that lists the 14 major North American countries that refused to sign the Bangladesh Factory Safety Accord (Here’s a good visual depiction of the plan if you’d rather.)

Color me disappointed. I’m not really surprised. Certainly not by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s broken moral compass has been pointed at “evil” for as long as I can remember. It’s one of a few major reasons I refuse to shop there. 

Sure, many of these companies claim they’ve elected not to sign because they’re working on their own plans. Forgive me if I think that’s a load of you-know-what. (Notably, Gap, at least, has been honest in pointing out they’re not signing because of the possible legal ramifications)

Let’s look at Big Bad Walmart’s plan, for example. Walmart’s plan may seem like it puts forth a good faith effort. I mean who can argue with a plan to “conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100 percent” of the 279 factories it uses in Bangladesh and publicize the results on its Web site? Sounds good to me.

But really–if Walmart were serious about putting an end to the types of sub-par working conditions that cost the lives of over 1100 people last month, it would put its money where its big corporate mouth is. But it won’t. I get it–the King of “Every Day Low Prices” doesn’t want to spend any extra money; that is, after all, why today they buy from suppliers whose goods are produced in Bangladeshi, not American, factories.  But come on, the plan requires retailers to underwrite safety improvements at a cost that would be proportional to its volume of orders. But the maximum cost per year for the next 5 years is $500,000. In 2011, Walmart’s revenues were some $447 billion, and bottom line profit came in at $15.7 billion. $15.7 billion. $500,000 doesn’t even come close to being a drop from the bucket of Walmart’s vast earnings.

But signing on to the Bangladesh Factory Safety plan is about more than the moral obligation to create and maintain safe working conditions–and it’s about more than a financial commitment. It’s also about accountability.  The plan is legally binding and includes sanctions for factories that fail to live up to its standards. Everyone at every level–from garment worker to retailer–has a role and a binding obligation.  It’s a great plan that would change the way the garment industry works–for the better.  Europe gets it–that’s why their major retailers have signed the pact (40 major retailers have signed).  Only 2 major American companies did–PVH (Calvin Klein & Tommy Hillfiger) and (shockingly given its CEO’s morally questionable statements of late) Abercrombie & Fitch.

Those companies are willing to accept responsibility for their role in factory safety–and they’re saying that they’re willing to be held accountable for their actions (or inactions).  Meanwhile, Walmart wants us to believe that its voluntary, self-regulatory, and non-binding plan will “meet or exceed” the goals of the  Bangladesh Factory Safety plan. Because Walmart has a great track record for holding itself accountable ethically and morally behaving unethically and trying (often successfully) to pass the buck when caught (see: Mexico bribery scandal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit & settlement, the Walmart & Social Capitol studies, Walmart’s use of public subsidies, and on and on and on).

Sorry–I’m  not buying it–no matter the price.

Disclaimer = here.

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems

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