Documents uncovered at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died in a fire two weeks ago indicate that not one but two U.S. apparel makers supplying goods for Wal-Mart were using the factory around the time of the fire.
Two days after the Nov. 24 fire, Wal-Mart said in a statement that it had stopped authorising production at Tazreen and that despite that move, a single supplier, later identified as Success Apparel, had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorisation and in direct violation of our policies”.
The documents found in the factory by officials from the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity show that a subcontractor for an additional Wal-Mart supplier, International Intimates, was having women’s robes and nightgowns made at the factory for Wal-Mart’s winter season. The documents show that the factory was also making women’s nightwear for Sears.
The documents contain a June 2012 e-mail from International Intimates’ subcontractor to officials at the Tazreen factory confirming plans to produce a robe and nightgown for Wal-Mart as well as a robe and pajama set for Sears. The documents also contain a production report from Sept. 13 showing plans to produce 117,000 of these garments for Wal-Mart.
Another document, dated Nov. 24 the date of the fire shows that Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group, billed the subcontractor, I.T. Apparels, for the “chemise & robe” production.
The documents were found in factory offices that were largely undamaged by the fire and were made available to The New York Times by an intermediary, the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group based in Washington that is financed by U.S. universities.
Kevin Gardner, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the retailer had stopped authorising production at the plant “many months ago”, but on Monday he again declined to say when or why Wal-Mart had ended such authorisation.
“We are still investigating the facts”, said Mr. Gardner.“If we determine that other suppliers were using a deactivated factory to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart, that’s a violation of our supplier standards. If that is the case, it is unacceptable and we will take appropriate action.”
Documents found at the factory earlier showed that orders in the name of three other U.S. apparel suppliers had been produced at the factory for Wal-Mart within the last year or so. In a statement, International Intimates said it was “conducting a thorough review of this incident”. The company added, “It is critical to note that Tazreen Fashions is NOT one of our approved partners and no one was authorised to make our products there.”
International Direct Group and Topson Downs declined to comment.
Mr. Gardner said Wal-Mart was working with “key stakeholders”, including Bangladesh garment manufacturers, the Bangladesh government and others, “to improve fire safety standards in Bangladesh”.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, said the new documents raised additional questions about Wal-Mart’s role at the factory.
“If Wal-Mart’s claim that they were the victim of one rogue supplier had any shred of credibility, it's gone now,” he said. “Wal-Mart is limited to one of two options to say, yes, we know these suppliers were using the factory or, two, we have no control over the supply chain that we’ve been building in Bangladesh for more than 20 years.”
In a statement, Success Apparel said it had placed an order with a Wal-Mart-approved subcontractor, Simco, and that Simco, without its authorisation, in turn subcontracted seven per cent of that order to Tazreen’s parent, the Tuba Group.
In a statement, Sears said that it did not know that one of its suppliers had been using Tazreen and that it, too, had terminated that supplier. — New York Times News Service