The members of Congress who were falsely matched with the mugshot database we used in the test include Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and legislators of all ages, from all across the country.
The false matches were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among them civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). These results demonstrate why Congress should join the ACLU in calling for a moratorium on law enforcement use of face surveillance.
From UltraViolet in the USA, 27 November 2019:
Amazon gave at least $15,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports politicians who passed state abortion bans.1 Target gave at least $13,500 to the same committee.2 Walmart gave a whopping $124,800 to that committee and directly to Missouri, Alabama, and Georgia politicians who pushed for each state’s abortion ban.3
These corporations pride themselves on their “pro-women” policies, but they support politicians who use women’s lives and health as political football. But we can help stop that. More and more companies care about the social and political issues that their consumers advocate for. If enough of us speak out and demand they stop giving to anti-women, anti-abortion politicians , we can make the case that their consumers–and their bottom lines–want them to support reproductive rights and justice.
Tell Amazon, Walmart, Target, and others: Quit lying about your commitment to gender equality. Stop funneling money to anti-abortion, anti-woman lawmakers.
Sign the petition
Amazon likes to brag about its so-called women empowerment programs, like “Amazon Women in Engineering.”4 Target’s CEO accepted an award for gender inclusivity.5 Walmart likes to talk about its “Global Women’s Economic Initiative” to combat gender inequality.6 All of them gave tens of thousand of dollars to lawmakers who push for state abortion bans.
So far this year, nine states have outlawed abortion or banned it after six weeks of pregnancy, before most women even realize they’re pregnant.7 The politicians who’ve passed these laws know that they endanger women’s lives and are unconstitutional. These laws are exercises in cruelty and political gamesmanship–and that is the point. They are hoping these abortion bans make it all the way up to the Supreme Court, where there is a conservative majority–including sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh–willing to gut Roe v. Wade and end access to safe abortion care for millions.
But those bottom lines depend on consumers, and 56% of consumers say that they would be more likely to buy from a company that publicly supports reproductive rights.8 This Black Friday, let’s start chipping away at the right wing’s well-orchestrated plan to gut abortion rights and build opposition to corporate funding of the anti-abortion lobby.
Western countries throw out nearly half of their food, not because it’s inedible — but because it doesn’t look appealing. Tristram Stuart delves into the shocking data of wasted food, calling for a more responsible use of global resources.
One major contribution to this waste comes from our biggest supermarket chains and their demand that suppliers produce fruit and vegetables that look cosmetically perfect and identical in size and shape.
Public opinion as well as some high-profile television chefs have started to demand that this stops. Surprise, surprise the supermarkets have decided that rather than solve the problem it would be easier to confuse consumers with some smoke, mirrors and a bit of media manipulation.
I took myself to my local Asda to buy a wonky veg box and there wasn’t one in sight. It must have sold out I thought. A helpful assistant laughed as she revealed the truth. Only 128 of the 550 Asda stores had the boxes and those only for a trial. Each of those 128 stores had been sent only a small quantity and staff had been advised to tell customers they did not know when and if there would be any more.
I might not have got my wonky veg, but Asda got its headlines and TV coverage. Job done.
Cameron’s Tory government, as usual decided to leave it to big business to regulate itself.
Supermarkets and the rest of the distribution network account for around a third of Britain’s total food waste.
When a few TV chefs like Jamie Oliver raised the issue the supermarkets decided they needed at least to be seen to be doing something. The wonky veg movement was one result.
Asda got the most media coverage with its now famous box but other supermarkets certainly tried to hop aboard the bandwagon with some equally halfhearted attempts to look like they are doing something to reduce food waste.
Price cutter Aldi, for instance stated sells a variety of fruit and vegetables with different shapes and skin finishes.
Morrisons too says it sells a permanent range of wonky vegetables at discounted prices.
Sainsbury’s says it has a number of initiatives to put wonky veg to good use.
Tesco — under heavy attack at the moment for the way it has failed to pay suppliers — says that for years it has included a variety of produce of different shapes and sizes in its “everyday value” range. The Co-operative, named as Britain’s most ethical supermarket chain, told the Morning Star: “We do sell smaller or mis-shaped fruit and vegetables, including apples and potatoes in our stores.”
Once the campaign had started to pick up momentum, the supermarket spin doctors saw a way to make themselves look even more public spirited. These wonky veg, they decided, could feed the poor.
The Tory austerity propaganda machine wasn’t far behind. Bendy carrots and scabby potatoes could help the poor make the squeezed family budget go that bit further.
We had already had the advice of arch-Tory Lady Jenkin. “Poor people do not know how to cook”, she told a Church of England event. “I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p. A large bowl of sugary cereals will cost 25p,” she smugly crowed. Later, she’d be forced to apologise for her crass opinions.
The last time Britain really got its food waste under control was with rationing in the WWII although most people don’t realise just how class-based the entire rationing system was.
Game was never rationed so the rich folk could gorge on pheasant, grouse and venison. Salmon, then a real luxury, was even more blatant in that it was never rationed. Tinned salmon however, something working-class housewives saved up for as a special treat needed ration-book coupons.
When the wartime minister of food issued an austerity recipe for salmon head pie, Communist MP Willie Gallacher asked the question: “Who gets to eat the rest of the salmon?”
Perhaps today we need to ask: “Who gets to eat the vegetables that aren’t so wonky?”
Over 2 billion of food a year wasted in the Netherlands: here.
Most fish turned into fishmeal are species that we could be eating, by Sarah Zielinski. 7:00am, February 27, 2017: here.
More than 17,000 workers at Walmart Chile began the largest private-sector strike in the country’s history Wednesday. The walkout is in response to mass firings and the expansion of a “multifunctional” work regime for the remaining workers. A total of 124 of the company’s stores will be closed indefinitely, while intermittent strike action will take place in the other 276: here.
USA: EMPLOYERS SET BREASTFEEDING TRAP When an employee was intent on breastfeeding her new baby, Walmart was legally obligated to help her do it by providing a private space and enough breaks so she could pump breastmilk. But the slow-moving disaster that unfolded over several weeks illustrated the many challenges breastfeeding moms like her still face on the job. [HuffPost]
Wal-Mart and JCPenney—two of MRS Fashions’ top clients—must immediately demand that MRS Fashions management return all passports to the workers.
The guest workers went on strike demanding a desperately-needed wage increase, decent and palatable food, healthcare facilities and that the workers be treated with respect, “as human beings.”
On Sunday, June 15, factory management called 14 senior and highly-respected guest workers to join a negotiation. But this turned out to be a scam. Factory management immediately turned the 14 workers over to the police. They are now imprisoned, for no reason. The workers expect that the next step is that these 14 workers will be illegally deported.
Physical punishment must end: Some managers beat the workers. Recently two general managers, Fakuruddin Baba (Indian) and Taher (Bangladeshi) were seen beating workers in the MRS Fashions factory.
Factory management withholds wages. This too must end.
The food supplied to the workers is of very poor quality, often rancid and past shelf-date.
The guest workers are housed in crowded, dirty, primitive dorms, eight to ten workers sharing each small room.
MRS Fashions management employs police officers to harass and threaten workers who are seeking their legal rights and fair wages. Management routinely and illegally deports guest workers who speak up.
Right now, the workers at MRS Fashions earn just 75 Bahraini Dinar per month—which in U.S. dollars amounts to 77 cents an hour, $45.91 a week and $198.93 per month. The standard workweek is six days and 60 hours, with workers rotating between 10-hour day shifts and 10-hour night shifts. (There is no overtime premium. Factory management has told the press that the workers will soon be paid an additional BD8 per month, which would amount to a raise of 8 cents an hour and $4.90 a week.)
Wal-Mart accounts for some 60 percent of total production at the MRS Fashions factory, followed by JCPenney. It appears that the majority of production at MRS Fashions is destined for the U.S. market. [Send letter to Wal-Mart and JCPenny.]
Workers at MRS Fashions report they exclusively produce pants including the following:
Faded Glory / Wal-Mart
Intervention is urgently needed to assure the safety and fundamental rights of these vulnerable guest workers. Please write to MRS Fashions, its parent company and to its two major U.S. buyers, Wal-Mart and JCPenney.
Bahrain is a cluster of islands in the Persian Gulf adjacent to Saudi Arabia. Its population is approximately 1.2 million.
Prominent Bahraini activist Nabil Rajab appealed on Wednesday for the world to impose sanctions on his country, which he said had slipped into “dictatorship”: here.
Bahrain bans local students from receiving foreign scholarship: here.
Rana Plaza disaster: call for UK to press retailers over compensation fund. More than a year after Bangladesh building collapse, ILO target of $40m fund to support victims has raised less than $17m: here.
Two Bangladesh workers died in an incident at a cement and concrete mixing factory in the Kingdom of Bahrain, report Bahrain-based English newspaper Daily Tribune on Thursday: here.
On 19 June, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy’s Advocacy Associate, Amanda Milani, delivered an oral intervention (1:53:40) at the 26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva under Item 3 on the situation of trafficking persons and migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia: here.
AROUND 2,000 workers at a Bahrain garment factory – which makes clothes for US retailers Macy’s, JC Penney and Walmart – continued their strike for a second day yesterday.
The Indian and Bangladeshi employees at MRS Fashions downed tools on Tuesday after trashing the company’s factory in Hajiyat, near Riffa, amid allegations of withheld salaries, unfair deportations, poor working conditions and mistreatment.
It followed an incident on Monday evening when Indian machine operator Tariq Iqbal was allegedly mistreated when he tried to resign.
Mr Iqbal later admitted that he slapped one of his superiors, but claimed he had been provoked.
When his co-workers heard that Mr Iqbal had been handed over to police and potentially faced deportation, a riot broke out in the factory leaving machinery, furniture and office equipment smashed and broken.
An MRS Fashions spokesman claimed on Tuesday that it paid the best salaries in the industry without any delays, while providing access to free private and public healthcare.
However, workers’ spokesman Pavan Kumar said yesterday that staff were refusing to return to work until their demands for a pay rise and better food and medical care were met.
“The managers who visited us on Tuesday evening said that they were ready to ignore the damage to the factory and asked us to resume work,” Mr Kumar told the GDN yesterday.
“But we decided not to and insisted on our demand for a salary raise.
“We need our salaries to be increased to BD150 (from BD75 a month), as the last time we got a raise was last year – BD4, that too after four years.
“We also want all our pending settlements to be cleared.
“If these conditions are not acceptable, we are all ready to go back to our countries.”
He said a Labour Ministry representative had recorded workers’ complaints about their conditions.
“He said the ministry will discuss the matter with management and do the needful to rectify (the situation),” said Mr Kumar.
“Officials voiced their concern about the damages we caused to the factory.”
However, Mr Kumar revealed that employee representatives refused to accompany MRS Fashions management to the Labour Ministry yesterday for a meeting.
“We are not ready for any talks, nor would we resume work unless our demands are met,” he added.
Other demands include a decision on the pending resignations of more than 100 employees, a fixed holiday schedule, overtime payments and a decision on the final settlement of Mr Iqbal.
Meanwhile, Labour Ministry labour affairs assistant under-secretary Dr Mohammed Ali Al Ansari confirmed that ministry officials held a meeting with MRS Fashions management. “We learnt the employees had put forward 12 demands,” he said.
“We are looking into ways of settling the matter amicably as MRS has a good reputation in the ministry’s records.
“But we will look into complaints of the employees seriously.”
MRS Fashions told the GDN last year that it manufactured 160,000 garment items a week for global retailers such as Macy’s, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Belk and Walmart, accounting for up to 70 per cent of Bahrain‘s exports to the US.
It is understood work has been halted in all three units of its factory in Hajiyat, but the company’s facility in Hidd employing women from Burma and Sri Lanka has not been affected.
Upcoming Event: Slaving Away: Migrant Exploitation and Human Trafficking in the Gulf: here.
Concrete Steps: The Need for HRC Action On Human Rights in Bahrain: here.
The chances of a Bahrain policeman being held accountable are about as remote as England’s chances of winning the world cup: here.
For the first time in the history of the Human Rights Council (HRC), many countries have signed up to a statement condemning Bahrain’s serious violations of human rights: here.
In a speech to earlier this week to the 26th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated that strong journalism is vital to any democratic society—it is what fuels individuals to participate in political life. Journalists are essential to “the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all”. Unfortunately, such opportunities are being denied to the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain: here.
Dark Days in Bahrain Isle of Imprisoned Children and Razed Mosques: here.
USA: Walmart cut my hours. I protested. And they fired me: here.
Walmart worker in New York fired for redeeming cans worth $2: here.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Search crews on Thursday clawed through the wreckage of a collapsed building that housed several factories making clothing for European and American consumers, with the death toll rising to at least 175 with many others still unaccounted for.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital, came only five months after a horrific fire at a similar facility prompted leading multinational brands to pledge to work to improve safety in the country’s booming but poorly regulated garment industry.
By early Thursday, police officials reported that more than 1,000 of the 2,500 workers were injured, with many of them still trapped. Soldiers, paramilitary police officers, firefighters and other citizens were enlisted in the search for survivors and bodies.
Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, head of the National Fire Service, said that an initial investigation found that the Rana Plaza building violated codes, with the four upper floors having been constructed illegally without permits.
“There was a structural fault as well,” General Khan added, noting that the building’s foundation was substandard.
The collapse followed a fire in November that killed 112 workers making shorts and sweaters for export and that led importers, including Walmart, to vow to do more to ensure the safety of factories where goods they sell are manufactured. The building collapse on Wednesday quickly revived questions about the commitment of local factory owners, Bangladeshi officials and global brands to provide safe working conditions.
The Bangladeshi news media reported that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors immediately closed. But the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks.
Labor activists combed the wreckage on Wednesday afternoon and discovered labels and production records suggesting that the factories were producing garments for major European and American brands. Labels were discovered for the Spanish brand Mango, and for the low-cost British chain Primark.
Activists said the factories also had produced clothing for Walmart, the Dutch retailer C & A, Benetton and Cato Fashions, according to customs records, factory Web sites and documents discovered in the collapsed building.
Survivors described a sensation akin to being in an earthquake: hearing a loud and terrifying cracking sound; feeling the concrete factory floor roll beneath their feet; and watching concrete beams and pillars collapse as the eight-story building suddenly seemed to implode.
This video is called Hundreds trapped in Bangladesh building collapse.
In one of the worst industrial disasters in Bangladesh’s history, at least 149 workers were confirmed dead as of Thursday morning, and about 1,000 injured, after the collapse of an eight-storey building that housed garment factories in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka. As many as 1,600 more were thought to be trapped in the rubble.
Fearing social outrage over this workplace slaughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered that the rescue operation be put on a “war footing,” mobilising the country’s military and its notorious rapid action battalion.
The final death toll from Wednesday’s building collapse could rise much higher, as more bodies are recovered. Many of those being treated in hospitals are also in critical conditions. At least 3,000 workers were employed in the garment factories that took up six floors of the building, known as Rana Plaza. The exact number of people who were inside when the disaster occurred is unknown.
Thousands were in the building when the upper floors pancaked on top of each other at around 9 a.m. Within a short time, nothing was left standing but the main pillar and parts of the front wall. The structure was reduced to a two-storey pile of broken rubble and concrete blocks. Victims “pinned under debris and choked with cement dust” were shouting for help and water, the Daily Star reported.
One person told Reuters: “It looks like an earthquake has struck here.” A garment worker, Sohra Begum, said: “I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard a deafening sound, but couldn’t understand what was happening. I ran and was hit by something on my head.”
Masuda Begum, a 22-year-old, who survived by crawling under a sewing machine, said: “The whole building was shaking just half an hour after we started work. There were hundreds of workers on our floor. Suddenly it became dark. A few of us managed to crawl out but I don’t know what happened to the others.”
Workers had found large cracks in the building late on Tuesday, but were ordered back to work after an evacuation. “Industrial police told the factory owners not to open their plants. The owners ignored our call and opened their factories anyway,” Mustafizur Rahman, head of the industrial police unit, told the media.
While the inspectors “told” them to suspend operations, the owners ignored the requests, as is the norm in Bangladesh, knowing that government authorities would do nothing by way of enforcement.
Press reports highlighted the army’s rescue operation. However, thousands of volunteers threw themselves into the fight to save the workers trapped in the wreckage. Local residents and victims’ relatives used their bare hands to shift rubble.
The government, employers and major international clothing firms have swung into action to try to limit the economic and political fallout from the disaster.
Prime Minister Hasina issued a perfunctory statement expressing “shock” at the loss of life and declared Thursday a day of national mourning. Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir visited the site and told reporters the building was “illegal.” He promised “tough action” against those responsible.
According to the Bangladesh-based Independent, Rana Plaza’s owner had permission to construct six-storeys, then illegally added two additional floors. The labour ministry has established a committee to investigate the collapse. But as in previous industrial disasters, the investigation will be narrowly focussed on finding scapegoats, rather than ending the widespread flouting of safety and building regulations.
The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) sought to exploit the tragedy for its own political purposes, calling off a scheduled protest. Opposition leader Khaleda Zia also declared her “shock” at the tragedy. Like the ruling Awami League, however, when in office the BNP presided over the rampant development of unsafe factories and buildings.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA), the peak employer organisation, sought to deflect any responsibility. BGMEA president Atiqul Islam told the New Age that his association had asked factory owners to close their operation after cracks were discovered. “But after the inspection by some engineers, the building owner assured the factory owners that there would be no problem,” he said.
Like the government, the BGMEA’s main concern is to minimise the impact of the disaster on the garment industry, which makes up 80 percent of the country’s exports. Some 3.6 million garment workers toil for long hours in more than 5,400 factories, often in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
The major international corporations that make huge profits exploiting Bangladeshi workers—the lowest paid in the world—rushed to distance themselves from the latest disaster.
Five garment factories—Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tac—operated in the Rana Plaza complex. Ether Tex chairman Muhammad Anisur Rahman told the Independent that his firm was sub-contracted to supply Walmart and the European chain C&A. The New Wave group produced apparel for major European brands, including Primark in Ireland.
Primark acknowledged that “one of its suppliers occupied the second floor” of the collapsed building, declaring it was “shocked and deeply saddened.” Benetton issued a statement denying that any of the companies in the Rana Plaza were its suppliers. Walmart said it was “sorry to learn of this tragic event” and was investigating to see if any of its suppliers were involved.
All this follows a well-established pattern, aimed at deflecting public attention and minimising responsibility, accompanied by a little aid to the victims and their families, and empty promises to improve conditions in the future. Production is simply shifted to other unsafe low-wage sweatshops in Bangladesh or other countries.
The latest tragedy comes just five months after Bangladesh’s worst factory fire, which killed at least 112 people. The fire in the eight-storey Tazreen Fashions building in the Ashulia industial zone began on the ground floor, trapping hundreds of workers in the upper storeys. Workers died either through suffocation and burns, or by jumping out of the building in a desperate attempt to escape.
Two investigations found evidence of gross negligence. Managers had forced workers to go back to work after the fire alarm started. The only exit was blocked by fire; the others were locked. The investigators recommended that the owner be charged with “criminal negligence,” but he was only arrested in February after workers staged angry demonstrations. And the hundreds of other unsafe sweatshops throughout the country continued as before.
More than 300 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh since 2006. Building collapses also occur regularly. In April 2005, the Spectrum-Sweater factory near Savar collapsed, killing 64 workers and injuring another 80.
The responsibility for these tragedies rests not only with the garment companies, state authorities and government in Bangladesh, but with the global corporations that create the sweatshop conditions through their relentless drive to cut costs and boost profits at the expense of the working class.
Walmart Protests Break Out Following Bangladesh Factory Collapse
Bangadesh factories are being called “death traps”
By Jean Elle
Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013 | Updated 11:37 PM PDT
The second deadly garmet factory incident in a matter of months in Bangladesh has activists calling on American companies to improve safety.
A building that was home to several factories collapsed Tuesday, and there was a deadly fire in another factory in November.
Sumi Abedin, 24, survived the fire, but 112 others did not.
She and another former factory worker arrived in San Francisco Wednesday hoping to meet with business leaders who contract with the factories.
Abedin says WalMart worked with her factory and she believes it worked with a factory in the collapsed building. She and a group of supporters protested outside the Fairmont Hotel, hoping to talk to Walmart board member Aida Alvarez.
Abedin says, “They are responsible for fire I believe we are in death trap because of them.”
In a statement Walmart says, “We are focused on investing our resources in proactive programs to address fire safety in the garment and textile industry in Bangladesh, and prevent fires before they happen.”
Abedin and Kalpona Akter had a ticket for the fundraiser Alvarez was attending Wednesday night but say organizers canceled them and refunded their money. Akter says, “While Aida Alvarez is having a fundraiser in fancy building in other part of the world sewing factory workers are dying.”
Workers protest in Dhaka over factory deaths. Thousands take to streets day after building collapse leaves at least 161 dead, as hunt for survivors continues: here.
Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire: here.
Hundreds of Bangladeshi workers refused to go to work today and thousands more demonstrated in the streeets following the collapse of a garment factory in the Dhaka suburb of Savar on Wednesday: here.
THE BWI (Building and Wood Worker’s International) union federation has undertaken a fact finding mission on the deadly building collapse in Mongla Cement Factory in Bangladesh: here.
recalled all corned beef from its budget range today after traces of veterinary drug bute were found in some batches.
The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that “very low levels” of the painkilling medicine were detected in Asda’s Smart Price corned beef.
Customers who have bought the tins, with any date code, have been urged not to eat its contents but to return it to one of its supermarkets.
Asda withdrew the product on March 8 after it was found to contain more than 1 per cent horse DNA. Bute was detected in some samples.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: “This product was withdrawn from sale on March 8 yet has only been formally recalled now, after testing positive for bute, meaning people could have unwittingly been eating meat containing this drug for the last month.
“This exposes the weaknesses in the government’s handling of the horsemeat scandal where products were withdrawn but in some cases not tested either for horsemeat or bute.”
Veterinary drug bute found in Asda corned beef: here. And here. And here.
Retail giant Walmart was fined £54 million on the 29th May after it admitted dumping chemicals: here.
30,000 LOSE HEALTH CARE AT WALMART “Walmart Stores, the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer, said on Tuesday that it would terminate health insurance coverage for about 30,000 part-time workers, joining a string of retailers that have rolled back benefits in response to the Affordable Care Act. Starting on Jan. 1, Walmart will no longer offer insurance to employees working less than an average of 30 hours a week, a move the retailer said was in response to an unexpected rise in health care costs.” [NYT]
Walmart’s financial problems are above all a reflection of the devastating impact of years of wage-cutting and austerity on its largely working class clientele: here.
The labor campaign confronting Walmart in the United States is planning an international escalation for tomorrow. In partnership with the global union federation UNI, the union-affiliated group Making Change at Walmart is supporting a “Global Day of Action,” with participation expected from Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Nicaragua, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Zambia. The day’s main US protest will be a Miami demonstration featuring a street theater performance in the tradition of the United Farm Workers’ teatro campesino.
“When other countries and other states come together and help Miami, it’s louder,” said Hileah, Florida, Walmart worker Marie-Ann Roberty, a member of the union-backed group OUR Walmart. While “in the beginning, Walmart thought it was not a threat…,” said Roberty. “Now that it’s growing, and people are coming together, Walmart has to listen, Walmart has to come and sit with us as a group and say, …What do you need us to do?”
Friday’s planned actions make good on a promise made two months ago. As I reported for Salon, as Southern California workers launched the first-ever coordinated US Walmart retail strikes on October 4, UNI staff and Walmart workers from abroad were in town to kick off a new Walmart Global Union Alliance. Workers from the UNI delegation rallied with strikers and escorted them back into work after the strike, carrying their countries’ flags into Walmart stores. They also pledged coordinated global actions in the months ahead.
Interviewed in Spanish during that visit, Argentinean union delegate Marta Miranda said, “It was an incredible experience, and a learning experience.” Miranda, who worked as a Walmart greeter for three years, said the visiting Walmart workers “shared stories” with their US counterparts. “We agree that it’s important for workers to have the basic right to stand up and speak out for themselves,” she added. “Everyone should have that. If they’re upset about their conditions, they should be able to voice that.”
Tomorrow’s global protests will call for an end to alleged retaliation against US Walmart worker activists. They will also include a moment of silence for the 112 workers who died in a November 24 fire at a factory that produced Walmart apparel in Bangladesh.
The website of the Corporate Action Network, a group that helped coordinate Black Friday protests in support of striking Walmart workers, also offers instructions from Making Change at Walmart for hosting actions on Friday at US stores. It suggests tactics including leaflets, delegations to management, flash mobs and prayer vigils.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment this morning. In statements to The Nation, the company has dismissed recent strikes and protests as publicity stunts, denied retaliating against activists, and said that it promotes fire safety in Bangladesh.
While entirely union-free in North America, Walmart has acceded to union recognition in several countries. One of the most dramatic struggles took place in the United Kingdom in 2006; as historian Nelson Lichtenstein recounts in his book The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Made a Brave New World of Business, the union representing warehouse workers at the Walmart subsidiary ASDA won expanded rights to organize retail store workers by threatening a work stoppage that would have kept beer from reaching the homes of fans in time for the World Cup. Lichtenstein notes that some Walmart unions were inherited by Walmart when it bought existing retail chains, and that some are largely controlled by political parties and don’t challenge management authority in the workplace.
In general, Lichtenstein told The Nation last week, “the lesson” from abroad “is that you need to bring the state in.” While Walmart has resisted unionization wherever possible, he said, the retail giant has been “willing to abide by the laws of a country if the laws are there and they’re going to be enforced.” According to Lichtenstein, US labor laws have done little to restrain Walmart from union-busting.
Interviewed during the October UNI delegation, Head of UNI Commerce Alke Boessinger said that while the countries with unionized Walmarts generally have more pro-union legal systems than the United States, “that doesn’t mean that it’s actually easy for them to get organized at Walmart.” In Argentina, for example, said Boessinger, “they still had to go through years of struggle and fighting with the company to make sure that they comply with the local law.” “Walmart,” she said, “will always only do the minimum, according to what they absolutely have to and are forced to do.”
For more on Walmart’s role in the fire that killed 112 Bangladeshi workers, check out Josh Eidelson’s coverage here.
Over 100 protestors in over a dozen US cities were arrested Thursday as they participated in walkouts against Walmart: here.
A special investigative report performed by the Tampa Bay Times and published in their Sunday newspaper this week provides details on the extent to which police departments in the Tampa, Florida area have become an effective private security force for retail giant Walmart: here.
After the fire, Walmart immediately sought to distance itself from the Tahzreen Fashions factory, in the Ashulia industrial zone north of the capital Dhaka. After its Faded Glory brand was discovered in the burnt-out factory, Walmart blamed its supplier, saying the company was not authorised to produce at Tahzreen Fashions.
Documents found by the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity show that at least five of Walmart’s suppliers sourced goods from the Tahzreen Fashions factory at some time this year. In a telephone interview this week with Bloomberg, Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardiner admitted that there was a “period in 2012 where the factory was active,” though it was “de-authorised months before the fire.”
Walmart and other transnational corporations are, of course, desperate to deny any responsibility, because a great deal is at stake. Entire corporate departments are devoted to “ethics”, designed to protect each company’s public relations image, head off potential legal action and ensure that profits do not suffer.
Walmart and Sears Holdings say they have now sacked the suppliers that used the Tahzreen Fashions factory. Dismissing individual suppliers or factories, however, simply means switching manufacture to other suppliers and plants that are likely to be just as unsafe.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart sources garments worth more than $1 billion a year in Bangladesh, where labour is cheaper than in other low-cost platforms such as China and Sri Lanka. When it comes to quality, supply times and cost, the retail giant rigorously polices every detail. When safety is the issue, Walmart establishes guidelines and conducts occasional factory audits, but insists that it is the responsibility of suppliers to use approved factories.
In reality, manufacturers in Bangladesh, operating on tight profit margins and deadlines, often cut corners—farming out work to other factories and slashing costs, including on safety. One garment manufacturer told Reuters sub-contracting was “a very common practice”. He explained: “Walmart goes to the lowest bidder, so manufacturers have to work on high volumes, but no one can find enough compliant factories to fulfil the orders, so they subcontract.”
These multi-layered relations, running from transnational corporations to suppliers to manufacturers or manufacturing groups to subcontractors, provide what is known in the world of intelligence agencies as plausible deniability. Corporate giants such as Walmart are aware of the sweatshop conditions required to manufacture their goods at the cheapest price, but choose to turn a blind eye so as to deny responsibility if anything happens.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium, commented to the New York Times: “It was not a single rogue supplier as Walmart claimed—there were several different US suppliers working for Walmart in that factory. It stretches credulity to think that Walmart, famous for its tight control over its global supply chain, didn’t know about this.”
Nor is it a question of one rogue factory. According to Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, some 50 percent of the country’s garment factories do not meet the government’s very basic, legally-required work safety standards that include emergency exits and fire extinguishers. The Tahzreen Fashions fire began on the ground floor, trapping hundreds of workers in the floors above.
The stance taken by Kalavakolana and her counterpart at Gap was contained in minutes obtained by Bloomberg. “Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories and in some cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories. It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments,” they told the meeting.
The Workers Rights Consortium has pointed out that factory costs represent a small part of the sale price of a garment—about $4 on a $20 shirt. The cost of safety renovations and training programs could add 2.5 percent to the factory cost, which would increase the retail price to $20.50 for the shirt.
Two other companies—PVH Corp, which owns the Tommy Hilfiger brand, and German retailer Tchibo—eventually signed the memorandum earlier this year. After negotiations, according to Scott Nova, Gap refused to sign, objecting to the higher prices, public disclosure of the Bangladesh factories involved and the legally binding character of the memorandum. Instead, Gap announced its own more limited four-part plan on safety.
Walmart spokesman Gardner refused to comment on the Dhaka meeting, other than to tell the New York Times, that Kalavakolana’s remarks were taken “out of context”.
Even if all four corporations had signed the memorandum, improvements in safety standards would be marginal. Manufacturers are under intense cost pressures in the cutthroat competition for contracts. Edward Hertzman, who runs the trade magazine Sourcing Journal, told Reuters that the factory certification process was often cosmetic. “A lot of times factories find ways to get around these certifications. Everything looks kosher on the day of the audit, but they are really not up to par,” he said.
An essential role in maintaining the charade of corporate concern about workers’ conditions and safety is played by various government bodies, trade unions and non-government organisations in Bangladesh and the US, which maintain the illusion that transnational giants can be cajoled and pressured to ensure the “ethical sourcing” of their products.
Just as retailers switched from countries like China and Sri Lanka, if costs rise in Bangladesh, items would be sourced in other countries with even lower wages and fewer restrictions on the exploitation of the working class.
Bangladesh officials admitted on Friday that the Tazreen garment factory in which 112 workers lost their lives had its fire safety certification taken away five months before the blaze: here.
At least 13 workers, including two women, died and many others were injured in a devastating fire that erupted at the five-storey Appco Bangladesh plastics factory in Dhaka’s Mirpur 1 district on Saturday afternoon. It took about 20 fire trucks three hours to extinguish the blaze, which is believed to have been caused by an exploding gas cylinder in a ground floor boiler room. Fuelled by plastics and other high flammable material, the fire rapidly spread throughout the building: here.