Walmart shorts were among the clothes found in the charred remains of Tazreen Fashions factory, but the company escaped accountability. For many western retailers, whose clothes are made in Bangladesh, it's business as usual. Fault Lines travels there to investigate why. The fire started on the ground floor and quickly spread. At least 112 people died, hundreds of others were injured. Many workers were trapped inside because the doors were locked and the building had no fire exits.
The remains of the fire are still everywhere there. Workers jumped out of the burning building onto the roof of a dormitory. There are bars on all the windows so workers had to kick out at the exhaust fans to jump onto the building. Five months after the fire, yet another disaster in Bangladesh captured the world's attention. Rana Plaza, an eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed. More than 1,000 people died. Even though the scale of the collapse eclipsed the fire, the fundamental questions raised by Tazreen were the same.
How could tragedies like these happen and who, ultimately, should be held responsible? Before Fault Lines arrived in Bangladesh, they've received internal documents related to the Walmart shorts order. The paper trail gives them an inside look into the complicated way that Walmart produces its clothing.
Walmart is a pioneer and also the most ruthless practitioner of a sourcing model that has now come to dominate the apparel industry. It's a system that can shield a company from blame when disaster strikes.
Walmart's supply chain is defined by two critical features. The tremendous pressure Walmart puts on its suppliers, and its contract factories overseas, to slash production cost which Walmart knows those factories will do by ignoring the rights and safety of workers. Then, secondly, the utilization of multiple layers of agents and contractors so that Walmart can distance itself from responsibility for the inevitable consequences of those sourcing practices.