Three years ago, popular global brands such as H&M, Walmart, and Gap pledged to improve safety conditions in factories overseas following a multitude of deaths due to poor labor conditions. Despite the time frame, many human rights groups believe that these promises have not been kept, and more progress is needed. Safety in working environments in Bangladesh remains poor, while global retailers continue to reap the benefits of a less expensive work force.
According to recently released reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, tens of thousands of workers in Bangladesh sew articles of clothing in buildings lacking adequate fire escapes. In India and Indonesia, pregnant women often received decreased wages and are discriminated against regularly. Some workers in Cambodia protested for a monthly wage increase, and were shot and killed as a result. And these instances have all occurred within the past three years. Although these popular brands have insisted that they made strides towards stricter labor protections and became more vigilant of the factories producing their products, significant changes are still required.
On Tuesday, the Wage Alliance also released a report which accuses Walmart of having abusive practices in various countries in Asia. In Cambodia, for example, employees must work 10 to 14 hours per day in the heat, without clean drinking water or breaks. The lack of these basic necessities too frequently contributes to mass fainting episodes in the factories, and if workers choose to speak up, they run the risk of their employment being terminated. Though Walmart does not directly own the factory in Cambodia, they have stated that the company expects its suppliers to enforce the standards in their particular factory.
Despite the changes that have been made, it’s difficult for factories in these developing countries because of the never-ending pressure to churn out billions of dollars of goods at the lowest costs possible. The collapse of the Rana Plaza, which killed 1,100 people, has retailers thinking of how costs can be cut in their domestic country in order to avoid these incidents in the future. Following the event, two coalitions of retailers (one European and one American), each made a 5 year commitment to regular inspections, repairs, and other corrective measures to mitigate risk, particularly in Bangladesh. After three years, it is difficult to measure the total impact that these coalitions might have, however, of the 108,000 issues identified through inspections at nearly 1,600 factories, 60% have been reported as corrected.