Walmart’s findings from a safety review of its Bangladesh operations identified more than 15 percent, or 32 factories, that failed safety standards, among more than 200 Bangladesh factories that produce goods for the retail giant. The review was prompted by a recent factory disaster that killed more than 1,100 garment workers.
According to Walmart, all but two have already addressed the problems. For one factory, that meant knocking down an illegally built top floor of an eight-story factory. Walmart has published the survey for 75 inspections online, reporting that all have passed electrical safety, building safety, and fire safety assessments.
Walmart has been criticized for doing too little on worker safety, even though it is the first retailer to publish inspection results. It refused to sign onto a legally binding agreement that commits $42 million for inspections and $100 million in loans to factory owners. Instead, Walmart opted for an independent process criticized as opaque and lacking accountability. The audits published on Walmart’s website will not explain conditions like the number of safety exits or building structure. The company said it’s so far spent $4 million on audits.
The reforms still leave holes in other parts of Walmart’s supply chain. Last month, seven workers died in a fabric mill fire reportedly because of a broken fire hydrant system. While Walmart, Gap, American Eagle, H&M, and other brands were customers, Human Rights Watch alleged the retailers did not act because the fabric mill was one step removed from the supply chain.
Other reforms for the world’s second-largest garment industry have moved slowly, despite mass protests from the industry’s mostly female workforce. The Bangladesh government made it easier for workers to unionize, although workers are still struggling to do so, and it agreed to a 77 percent minimum wage increase that still makes workers the worst paid in the world.