How Walmart's 'Chain of Deniability' Works
Harold Meyerson explains how company distances itself from poor labor conditions
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2012 12:12 PM CST
Boxes of garments lay near equipment charred in the fire that killed 112 workers Saturday at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory,on the outskirts of Dhaha, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012.   (AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

(Newser) – After the devastating fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplied clothing to Walmart, the company quickly denied any direct link to the factory, blaming a supplier for subcontracting work to the factory without Walmart's knowledge or approval. But "that's the beauty of [Walmart's] chain of deniability," writes Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post: The company uses such a long chain of "contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors" that when things like this happen, Walmart is not the employer of record and can refuse to take any responsibility for the terrible work conditions.

It doesn't just happen overseas: In America, tens of thousands of workers make little money and receive few benefits, employed as they are by temporary employment companies that, in turn, have contracts with Walmart. When one such company was charged with not providing pay rate information to its employees, you guessed it: Walmart skirted any citation. "Walmart neither pays its own nor takes responsibility for those who make and move its wares," Meyerson writes. The Bangladesh factory had no emergency exits—but "for America’s largest private-sector employer, the emergency exits are always open." Click for Meyerson's full column.

View 1 more image
More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
How Walmart's 'Chain of Deniability' Works is...
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Showing 3 of 24 comments
Nov 29, 2012 1:08 PM CST
The way the current WH administration works.
Nov 29, 2012 7:41 AM CST
So Walmart is responsible because a sub-contractor used a supplier that didn't meet the requirements given out by Walmart? The article says Walmart is really responsible because they know that some sub-contractors will break the rules but they don't do enough to enforce the rules. Using that logic isn't it your fault that there was this tragic fire? Yes, you are responsible because you know that Walmart has these rules but you know that the sub-contractors won't always follow all the rules. You and your desire for the lowest prices caused the death of these people. Either you need to force Walmart to change the rules and change how they enforce the rules, or accept the fact that a few cheap clothes at Walmart are worth the cost of a few lives. You know, if you didn't buy the clothes, Walmart wouldn't have bought the contract, and these people wouldn't have been killed. Did that help explain this story?
Nov 28, 2012 6:22 PM CST
Once we're all indoctrinated into living in a world of social fictions, people can get away with all kinds of murder. Corporations/sub-contractors? Social fiction shielding fat cats' profits from liability and the fat cats themselves from jail time. Property rights? Social fiction that lets rich people pretend they live in a bubble independent from the rest of reality, because of the public-private distinction we're all inculcated with, which is itself a social fiction. The price of civilization is that we have to live in a world that largely doesn't exist outside of our collective imaginations. The Waltons maybe do not appreciate the fact that the lines indicating that they are better than the workers they abuse are very thin indeed.