Walmart has revealed that the garment factory in Bangladesh where a recent fire killed 112 people was making clothes for the retail giant – apparently without its knowledge. Campaigners say items for the clothing line of rapper P Diddy were also produced there.
The US company said that the Tazreen Fashions Ltd factory was no longer authorised to produce clothes for its range, but that work had been sub-contracted by a supplier "in direct violation of its policies". It said it had now ended its relationship with the supplier. "The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh," Walmart added in a statement.
The retailer and P Diddy are just the latest in a series of Western brands to have been linked to the factory, located in the Dhaka suburbs. Carrefour, Ikea and C&A clothes were also produced there, according to reports. There was no immediate word last night from Sean Combs, aka P Diddy.
The fire on Saturday was among the deadliest of a number of blazes that have broken out in garment factories in Bangladesh in recent years. With small profit margins, the producers often skip safety and health regulations as they rush to fill orders for European and US markets. Survivors from the fire have told reporters that an exit door was locked and that extinguishers did not work.
Campaigners yesterday appealed to Sean Combs to demand better working conditions after releasing images that appeared to show dozens of images of the clothes' labels from inside the destroyed factory. "We found clothing of ENYCE [the rapper's label] and Faded Glory [a Wal-Mart range]," said Kalpona Akter, director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity.
Yesterday, Bangladesh held a day of mourning for those who were killed. Up to three million factory and government employees were given the day off. The Associated Press reported that demonstrators blocked a major highway, threw stones at factories and smashed vehicles as police continued to search for the owner of the factory, who has fled.
Tahmina Rahman, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, said the government needed to do more to punish factories when there were such accidents. "The owners go unpunished and so they don't care about installing enough security facilities," she said. "The owners should be held responsible and sent to jail."
Firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the premises of the factory while another 12 people died at local hospitals after jumping from the building. Some of the dead were so badly burned that they could not be identified. They were buried on Monday in graves located outside the capital.
Walmart said in its 2012 Global Responsibility report that it had stopped working with 49 factories in Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues.
Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories. The country earns about £12.5bn a year from exports of garments, mainly to the US and Europe. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would stand by the victims' families and had offered around £800 to each of them.