Wal-Mart to bring questionable oversight to U.S. warehouses

The retailer will audit labor conditions, using system similar to one that that oversaw Bangladeshi fire factory

By Natasha Lennard
January 4, 2013 10:30PM (UTC)
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Following an unprecedented wave of strikes throughout its U.S. supply chain at the end of last year, Wal-Mart has introduced a new plan for audits of labor conditions in its U.S. distribution centers. As Josh Eidelson highlighted Thursday for the Nation, the plans, which are similar to audits in place for Wal-Mart's distribution centers overseas, have been widely panned by labor groups.

Reportedly poor, unsafe working conditions in the retail giant's U.S. warehouses led last year to repeated strikes and threats of legal action by subcontracted workers. According to Eidelson, however, labor groups are unimpressed by Wal-Mart's response -- namely that Wal-Mart would employ the system it uses to monitor international distribution warehouses to monitor U.S. ones. The move seems particularly striking in the wake of a deadly fire in one of Wal-Mart's Bangladeshi distribution centers in which 112 workers died. Via the Nation:


The day after the [news broke] of Walmart’s plan to bring audits like those it uses in Bangladesh to the United States, The New York Times published a story by reporters Steven Greenhouse and Jim Yardley with new details on the lead-up to the November 24 fire. Among them: that three inspection reports beginning in 2011 had “revealed serious repeated violations” like blocked escape routes and insufficient fire extinguishers; that ten weeks before the fire, the majority of the factory’s production was still for Walmart suppliers; and that inspectors were not instructed to check for fire-safe emergency exits.

Warehouse Workers United director Nick Allen told Eidelson that although he was reserving judgement on Wal-Mart's audit plans until he knew more precise details, he said reports that the new system would be similar to the one used abroad are “not at all reassuring.”



Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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