Anyone reading The New York Times’ stories in past weeks about Walmart surely must question why Zionsville would overlook the mega-giant retailer’s world-wide record of questionable labor practices and give it tacit approval for our community.
In its’ series of stories, The Times reported allegations of bribery in Mexico to locate outlets, a wave of labor demonstrations in the United States, and questions arising from a Nov. 24 fire in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of 112 workers in a garment factory used by several Walmart suppliers.
On Jan. 8, Walmart is scheduled to request a zoning variance from the Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals, and then, if approved, seek development plan approval from the Town’s plan commission Jan. 22 for a new store in the 11000 block of Michigan Road, within three miles of an aging store at 86th and Michigan Road.
Here’s what The Times reported in its December 29 editions about Walmart:
*Walmart led an effort to block a plan to have global improvements in factories in Bangladesh, according to minutes of an April 20 meeting as well as several participants.
*Walmart has become the world’s largest retailer by demanding the lowest costs from suppliers and delivering the lowest prices to consumers – while promising customers that the billions of dollars of goods it buys from Bangladesh, China and other countries are produced in safe, nonsweatshop factories.
*Walmart says it is doing everything it can to prevent factory fires. ‘Walmart has been advocating for improved fire safety with the Bangladesh government, with industry groups and with suppliers,’ Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, said in an e-mail.
*Walmart also insists that its apparel suppliers were using the Tazreen factory (fire site) without its approval. Two days after the fire, Walmart said it had ‘de-authorized’ use of the factory, but without saying when or why: two weeks later it said it had taken the action ‘many months ago.’
*Many workplace safety experts say Walmart’s own monitoring system is part of the problem. A report on an inspection of Tazreen Fashions, conducted on May 2011, found the factory had only 30 of the 66 required fire extinguishers. There were no fire alarms or fire hose pipes on the factory’s fourth and fifth floors and no smoke detectors in the room where yarn was stored. The evacuation plan was outdated, and the factory lacked a health and safety committee, as required by law.
* Documents found at the factory after the fire show that six Walmart suppliers had been using the factory in the previous 18 months, including two relying on Tazreen in the weeks before the fire. Documents show that as recently as last Sept. 13, two months before the fire, 55 percent of the factory’s production was for Walmart suppliers. Walmart said it had fired a supplier who it said was using the factory without permission.
*Serious safety problems continued well into 2012.
The full-page story in The Times cites what it claims to have found that rebutt many of Walmart’s assertions of fire safety systems and inspections in the Bangladesh factory.
Nonetheless, by allowing another Walmart, isn’t Zionsville burying its’ head in the corporate sand and refusing a conscientious effort to say enough to the glut of goods produced on the backs of poorly paid and protected workers?