Wal-Mart Won't Sign Pact, Has Own Way To Protect Workers

May 15, 2013
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

NPR's business news begins with worker safety in Bangladesh.

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GREENE: All right, today is the deadline for major retailers to sign a legally binding safety agreement that would improve factory conditions in Bangladesh. But the world's largest retailer - Wal-Mart - says it won't sign. Instead, Wal-Mart says it will develop its own safety program for the factories it uses in Bangladesh.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The agreement has been hammered out between retailers and worker groups for many months, but the negotiations gathered steam following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which left more than 1,100 garment workers dead. Companies that sign the agreement promise to hire safety inspectors at factories where they manufacture clothing, and to help correct problems when they surface.

So far, a number of major European retailers have signed on, including H&M, the parent company of Zara, Benetton and Marks & Spencer. But most major American retailers have held back.

Yesterday, Wal-Mart said it wouldn't participate. It said the agreement introduces requirements - including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms - appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government. But the company said it would conduct inspections of its own, at all of the 279 factories where the clothing it sells is manufactured. And it said it will publish the inspection results.

Meanwhile, The New York Times published documents indicating that one of Wal-Mart's suppliers produced jeans at Rana Plaza. The Times said Wal-Mart did not dispute the documents.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.