Mr. Sam” said it best 20 years ago.
“In the beginning, I was so chintzy. … I really didn’t pay my employees very well,” the founder of Walmart said in his 1992 autobiography, Sam Walton: Made in America. “I was so obsessed with turning in a profit margin of 6 percent or higher that I ignored some of the basic needs of our people, and I feel bad about it.”
Not bad enough, however, to change the course or culture of the world’s largest retailer. Walmart’s “chintzy” attitude toward the wages and benefits of its workers isn’t news. What may be news to many, however, is just how bad it is for workers at Walmart suppliers around the world.
This became tragically clear Nov. 24 when a fire broke out in the Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 112 workers. They burned to death in a building without fire exits. The factory produced apparel for Walmart and Sam’s Club as well as for Sears, Disney, Sean Combs’ Enyce and other Western corporations.
Walmart was quick to distance itself from the tragedy. Spokesmen said the company had ended relations with the factory prior to the fire and even conducted an audit that indicated safety problems there. Investigations by the Bloomberg News and others have indicated, however, that a third of the factory’s production lines were committed to Walmart and suppliers still used it this year.
In addition, Walmart apparently took a lead role in opposing an effort in 2011 to have corporations step forward and fund improved safety measures within the South Asian garment industry. Funding such measures “is not financially feasible” is how one top Walmart official described it in a document revealed by