Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Always low standards

Just in time for the current Chinese recall madness comes a new report from Wal-Mart about what a great job it is doing monitoring overseas factories.
From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Inspections at factories supplying products to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. turned up fewer serious labor violations in 2006 than in 2005, the company said in a report released Wednesday.

Wal-Mart Watch, one of the company’s chief critics, charged that the report glosses over serious flaws in the supply chain of the world’s largest retailer.

Most of the factories inspected were in foreign countries.

According to the report, Wal-Mart or contract auditors found serious violations, such as failure to pay overtime, in 40. 3 percent of the 8, 873 factories inspected. That figure is down from 52. 3 percent in last year’s report.
Wow, that means only about 3,500 factories are abusing people. Mighty impressive, Wal-Mart. If you read the full article you'll see that "medium risk violations," which are described as a failure to document pay slips and such, are way up. So I guess we don't really know how many "serious" violations there actually are, seeing as the documentation is rather spotty.

None of this is particularly surprising. The chief concerns raised during the globalization/NAFTA frenzy of the Clinton years were environmental and safety standards, and worker's rights. The free market absolutists essentially refused to factor those costs into their analysis, so of course it made economic "sense" for Wal-Mart to pressure manufacturers to move to China.

Now both the U.S. and China find themselves facing a potentially serious consumer revolt. Consumers have become accustomed to cruddy products, but they probably won't become accustomed to dangerous products.

The other thing I've never understood is how Wal-Mart can claim to be operating with fiduciary responsibility when it so clearly alienates huge swaths of the market with its labor practices and its peculiar evangelical-conservative corporate culture. It seems to me they are being derelict in their responsibility to stockholders when so many Americans won't even set foot in their stores. If they purpose of a public corporation is to make money, wouldn't they make more money if they stopped being so irresponsible?

(A nod of the all new material Made in China USA flag cap to Wal-Mart Watch.)

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