Wal-Mart under fire for 'unethical business practices'

Dhaka, Jan 23 (UNB) – Rights activists, experts and owners of readymade garment (RMG) factories on Wednesday accused US retail giant Walmart of carrying out ‘unethical trade practices’ in Bangladesh for its refusal to bear the responsibility for the fire incident at Tazreen Fashions.

They affirmed that Walmart will not be able to do undisturbed business in the country unless it shoulders some responsibility for the Tazreen fire that killed 111 workers and injured many more.

Speaking at a multi-stakeholder dialogue on RMG industry, titled ‘Reinforcing Positive Image to Global Value Chain: Challenges and Way Forward’, they also demanded immediate arrest of the owner of Tazreen.

The dialogue was jointly organised by Population Services and Training Centre (PSTC, Awaj Foundation and Actionaid Bangladesh at Cirdap auditorium.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) governing board member Roy Ramesh Chandra said it is the responsibility of the retailer to monitor from which factory its agent is getting the product and thereby to ensure the safety measures.

“Wal-Mart has also conducted unethical trade practice by suddenly dismissing the order after the incident (Tazreen fire),” he said.

“The hands of the trade union are much stronger than Wal-Mart,” said the veteran labour rights activist, “It must compensate on the basis of loss of future earning to those affected by the incident. Otherwise, it (Walmart) won’t be allowed to do business here undisturbed.”

Roy also stressed that the owner of Tazreen can never shove off the responsibility for the killing of workers in the fire.

The government also failed its duty by not arresting the owner, he said, adding that problems in the RMG sector will continue to loom large if the rule of law is not established.

Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) first vice president Hatem Ali also echoed Roy’s concern about Wal-Mart, saying “It must meet the responsibility as a brand.”

In his keynote presentation, Actionaid deputy director AR Rahman said the traditional buyer-driven value chain in Bangladesh has failed to address the problems emerging at the lower tier. “We need a more inclusive value chain incorporating all the stakeholders, enforcing the accountability of lead firms to improve the situation,” he added.

Awaj Foundation executive director and labour rights activist Nazma Akhter said the culture of compliance with the labour law is totally absent in the country.

“Most owners, the management, or the workers are largely ignorant of the laws,” she said, stressing the need of facilitating legal aid support to the workers.

Presided over by Actionaid Bangladesh governing board member Monsur Ahmed Chowdhury, the programme was also addressed by former director general of the Directorate of Fire Service and Civil Defense (DFSCD) Naim Shahid Ullah, director general of DFSCD Ali Ahmed Khan, PSTC executive director Milon Bikash Paul and Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) president Golam Rahman.

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