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Wal-Mart gives suppliers a deadline to disclose factory details

Today is the deadline for companies that make products for Wal-Mart to tell the retail giant exactly which factories they work with. The requirement comes after a fire at a clothing factory in Bangladesh last year killed more than a hundred people.

Wal-Mart says it never knew its products were being made at the factory that burned down. Now the company says it's going to cut ties with suppliers who use unauthorized factories, and the retail giant is donating $1.6 million to a new safety academy for factory managers in Bangladesh.

“Even though this not revolutionary by itself, it’s indeed a signal that Wal-Mart is trying to adopt a more progressive view on sustainability," says Edgar Blanco, who studies supply chain management at MIT.

Blanco thinks big companies should actively hunt for abuses in the farthest reaches of their supply chains. He adds that, as the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart could set a new standard.

But at the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, director Charles Kernaghan isn’t sure.

“I don’t want to be a downer on stuff like this, but we just have not seen Wal-Mart take the lead, ever -- not on wages, not on the right to organize, not on health and safety,” says Kernaghan.  “But we can hope can hope that they do make a serious commitment and that they keep at it.”

Wal-Mart told Marketplace in a statement that it knows “continued engagement is critical.”

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I must speak up here. From the first 2/3rd and the last sentence of this story, you'd think Walmart employs reporter Shannon Mullen. I expect better from Marketplace.

Walmart outsourced its exploitation, turned a blind-eye, and got caught. Reported facts actually indicate that MULTIPLE Walmart suppliers contracted with the Bangladeshi factory that burned down. Industry watchdogs argue that a giant like Walmart, renowned for its tight controls on its supply chain, would have known this and if they didn't, were simply passing on culpability. This would reasonably indicate that Walmart's deadline could likely be a publicity stunt.

So why is this reporter still doing glowing stories about Walmart? From her listed stories on this site, this is her second "Wal-mart is great!" story about one of the most unethical retail superpowers in the world. A search for Wal-mart and its efforts on factory safety in Bangladesh turns up reports from numerous media sources including other NPR and Marketplace journalists reporting Wal-mart's stated position on safety and subcontractors, BUT GIVING EQUAL TIME TO CRITICS OF THAT POSITION.

Mullen gives the opposing view two wishy-washy lines and buries it. Worse, she states that Walmart didn't know about the subcontractors and leaves it at that, as if it is accepted fact.

It would've been very, very easy for any reporter to find a reliable, smart critic explaining why Walmart's deadline is publicity stunt at best, and how Walmart actually declined compensating the victim's families from the fire because Walmart was "unaware" their goods were being made there. Does that even matter, especially when their corporate system works by passing on culpability? Or how Walmart actually blocked efforts by other western retailers in a financial commitment to fund the repair and rebuilding of Bangladeshi garment factories they use. Any ONE of these facts is relevant to the nuances that are so important to balanced reporting.

Listeners who rely on these short blibs of info walk away thinking Walmart is responsible and ethical, without an equal counterbalancing view. This is a real disservice to the greater good, and a slap in the face to the victims of the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh that have so far killed 300 people, of which Mullen's good ol' Walmart was also involved.

With all due respect, Shannon Mullen should stick to her light weight chicken coop stories if she can't give serious stories related to factory safety in Bangladesh the sophisticated journalistic objectivity and integrity it desperately deserves, no matter how short the story.

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