Walmart could have helped make Bangladesh's garment factories safer, but it declined at a meeting in 2011, saying such a move would be too expensive. Details from the meeting are coming out now in the wake of the factory fire that killed 112 last month. More than a dozen retailers attended the Bangladesh meeting, which was intended to improve safety at the country's clothing factories, and there the companies discussed an agreement requiring all the retailers to pay prices high enough to allow factories to improve safety. But a Walmart director of ethical sources said his company wasn't willing to share that cost.
The meeting minutes include these comments from that director as well as a director from Gap, which also declined to sign: "Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories. It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments." A coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign who provided the minutes to Bloomberg calls Walmart's position "shocking." Half of Bangladesh's clothing factories do not currently meet legal safety requirements. (Read more Bangladesh stories.)