Listen To The Story

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.”