The original version of this article was published in Labor Notes on April 29, 2013.
See also Talking Union and CounterCurrents.
Copyright © 2013 Marc Norton
[Update, May 13 - The official death toll at Rana Plaza now stands at 1,127, and a new fire killed eight people at the Tung Hai Sweater Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on May 8.]
When terrorist bombers killed three people in Boston on April 15, the FBI moved heaven and earth to find and apprehend those responsible. When Walmart's suppliers in Bangladesh killed over 380 people, at last count, in one of their garment factory death traps on April 24, the FBI sat on their hands, despite the fact that those responsible – Walmart’s Board of Directors – are well known and could be easily apprehended.
Walmart ranges the globe searching for cheap labor for its goods, leaving death and destruction in its wake. What is the difference between Walmart's actions and terrorists planting bombs? Both sets of criminals know that they will create carnage among the innocent. Is the murderous search for profit at any cost less criminal than placing a bomb?
In the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building, authorities in Bangladesh have arrested or detained the owner of the building, executives of companies operating in the building, and even engineers working for the city of Savar where the factory is located. Has the FBI sent operatives to Bangladesh to question these and other suspects to determine the culpability of Walmart and other US companies that were getting their products from this death trap? There has not been a single word of any such investigation. Yet you know that if the brothers who have been accused of planting the Boston bombs had acquaintances in Bangladesh, the FBI would be there in a flash.
The deaths at Rana Plaza are only the latest example of murder in the Walmart supply chain. It was only last November that 112 workers died in a fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh, where clothes were being manufactured at sweatshop wages for Walmart. In the wake of that fire, no less a source than the New York Times reported that Walmart’s "director of ethical sourcing... played the lead role in blocking an effort… to improve their electrical and fire safety,” arguing that “it is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”
Where is the FBI investigation of Walmart's criminal conspiracy that resulted in the deaths at Tazreen?
On the very day of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, one of the survivors of the fire
Sumi Abedin, was in San Francisco. She and another former garment worker from Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter, had tickets to attend a gala fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel
for the Latino Community Foundation,
which is led by Aida Alvarez,
a prominent member of Walmart’s board.
Not surprisingly, the Foundation denied Abedin and Akter access to the fundraiser, along with other Walmart workers from the Bay Area and Southern California who had planned to attend. Instead, they and their supporters rallied outside the Fairmont, demanding justice for Walmart workers all along the supply chain.
The Latino Community Foundation calls Walmart a “Corporate Champion.”
Corporate Criminal would be more accurate. Why wasn’t the FBI at the Fairmont to question Alvarez about Walmart’s terrorism in Bangladesh?
Why hasn’t the FBI knocked on the door of Marissa Mayer, another member of Walmart’s board, who lives at the luxurious Four Seasons on Market Street in San Francisco? If the FBI and federal officials won’t pursue this investigation, maybe San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascon, who has been big about fighting terrorism, should do something about the corporate criminals living in and hobnobbing about San Francisco.
The day after the fundraiser at the Fairmont, Abedin and Akter attended a large rally outside the GAP World Headquarters in San Francisco. GAP, like Walmart, profits from the sweatshop wages paid in garment factory death traps in Bangladesh and around the world. A number of workers wrapped in mock shrouds lay on the ground in front of GAP’s doorway.
Since 2006, close to 1,000 garment workers in Bangladesh have died while manufacturing clothes for companies like Walmart and GAP. The death toll keeps rising.
When will law enforcement in the US deal with these terrorists in our midst?