After the deadly building collapse in Bangladesh, Walmart released a list of factories it had banned. But it has continued receiving shipments from two of them
Since the Rana Plaza building collapse killed more than 1,100 people in April, retailers have faced mounting pressure to improve safety at Bangladesh garment factories and to sever ties with manufacturers that don't measure up.
The world's largest retailer, Walmart, last month released a list of more than 200 factories it said it had barred from producing its merchandise because of serious or repeated safety problems, labour violations or unauthorized subcontracting.
But at least two of the factories on the list have continued to send massive shipments of sports bras and girls' dresses to Walmart stores in recent months, according to interviews and U.S. customs records.
In June 2011, Walmart said, it banned the Bangladeshi garment factory Mars Apparels from producing goods for the retail giant. But over the last year, Mars has repeatedly shipped tons of sports bras to Walmart, according to U.S. customs records and Mars owners. The most recent shipment was in late May, almost two years after Walmart claims it stopped doing business with the Bangladeshi firm.
A second Bangladeshi clothing maker, Simco Dresses, was blacklisted in January but continued shipping to Walmart Canada into March.
Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardner said the Mars shipments were allowed because of confusion over whether Walmart's standards applied. Mars didn't produce garments with a Walmart house brand but instead with a Fruit of the Loom label. So, Gardner said, it wasn't clear if Mars needed to meet Walmart's standards or Fruit of the Loom's.
Fruit of the Loom could not immediately be reached for comment.
As for Simco, orders that Walmart had already placed were accepted to lessen the impact on workers, Gardner said.
The shipments raise questions about Walmart's ability to monitor its supply chain as well as its efforts to ensure decent working conditions in factories located in low-wage countries.
Interviews with Bangladeshi factory owners spotlight another potential problem: Walmart's approach of publishing a blacklist with no further details might unfairly tar family businesses with minor violations.
International labor groups have been pressing retailers to sign an accord to pay for fire and building safety upgrades to Bangladesh factories. So far, several large retailers including H&M, Inditex and PVH Corp., which includes Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, have signed onto the agreement.
But many of the biggest retailers in the United States, including Walmart and Gap, have not. Instead, they are working on an alternative plan that they say will improve safety faster — but that is not legally binding.
"We think the safety plan that we've put in place already meets or exceeds the [other] proposal and is going to get results more quickly," Gardner said. "The point of the list is to get more accountability and transparency into our supply chain."
Soon, he said, Walmart would also publish safety audits of its current suppliers in Bangladesh.
Dan Schlademan, a United Food and Commercial Workers leader who directs the union's Making Change at Walmart campaign, said the shipments from barred factories show that Walmart's program is hollow.
"It's either a question of Walmart just telling people what they want to hear," he said, "or it's that Walmart has created a supply chain system that they have no control over."
Making Change at Walmart initially provided the customs data. ProPublica verified the information and found other shipments using public data compiled by research firms serving the import-export industry.
Mars Apparels is a manufacturer of lingerie and sportswear in the port city of Chittagong. In the last year, the garment maker sent at least 22 shipments, totaling 80 tons, of sports bras through the Port of Newark, according to customs records compiled by Import Genius, a data consultant for the import-export industry. In each case, the customer was listed as "Walmart Stores" and the product mark as "Ariela-Alpha International," whose brands include L.e.i. and Fruit of the Loom. (Ariela-Alpha did not return phone calls.)
Reached on a cell phone in Bangladesh, Shaker Ahmed, deputy managing director of Mars Apparels and the son of its founder, confirmed the customs data and said that the latest shipment went out last month. (Customs data show several May shipments in which the customer was listed as "WMR.")
But Ahmed said that until contacted by ProPublica, he had never had any problems with Walmart or heard about its list of banned factories. He described Mars as a medium-sized garment manufacturer with less than 1,000 workers.
Ahmed said Mars has supplied Walmart for more than a decade, though since 2008 it has been making clothes for private labels such as Fruit of the Loom that are owned or licensed by an importer, which then supplies the clothing to Walmart.
When Mars was manufacturing clothing for Walmart brands, its factory was regularly audited by the company, Ahmed said. Walmart rates its suppliers green, yellow, orange and red, with green being the best and red the worst, he said. "We never received a rating below yellow."
Since 2008, Ahmed said he has passed all audits by Fruit of the Loom, which uses the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production program to inspect factories. Walmart said Mars didn't meet all of its criteria, which it said is more stringent than WRAP's. Ahmed said he welcomed Walmart to look at his factory and that the company is in the process of building a state-of-the-art facility.
Walmart accounts for a "very large" percentage of Mars' business, Ahmed said. "If Walmart were to tell us they're stopping production, if that were to happen, we would be destroyed. Our workers would be destroyed. We haven't had a single incident in 19 years. We never had a problem. So that would be catastrophe."
The other banned garment maker in the recent customs records, Simco Dresses, was blacklisted in January. The Import Genius records show three shipments of girls' dresses in February and March to the Isfel Co. destined for Walmart Canada. Isfel didn't return a call.
Customs records provided by another trade research firm PIERS show four more March shipments of knitted dresses and rompers, also destined for Walmart Canada.
The Bangladeshi press reported in January that Walmart had refused a shipment of women's shorts from Simco after discovering unauthorized subcontracting to Tazreen Fashion, where a fire killed 117 people last year. Simco said at the time that Walmart's ban could drive it into bankruptcy.
Simco's managing director Muzaffar Siddique said his firm had subcontracted an order to an authorized Walmart supplier, which then sent the work to Tazreen without its knowledge.
Asked about the February and March shipments from Simco, Walmart spokesman Gardner said, "If it isn't an egregious matter, we will accept goods produced under existing orders as part of our efforts to mitigate impact on the workers."
Siddique contended that Walmart's listing of his company is unfair and is damaging his family's business. After the list was published, he said J.C. Penney canceled a $300,000 order for 500,000 pairs of pajamas.
"We are very upset about it," Siddique said. "When I do business with you, it is like a doctor-patient relationship; there should be confidentiality. Walmart has no business going about publishing people's names that it thinks are bad because that jeopardizes other business we are doing with our customers."
Walmart is the only U.S. retailer to release a list of barred factories in Bangladesh. Gap, which also has a large presence in Bangladesh, said in a May statement that it has committed up to $22 million for factory improvements and that its stepped-up inspections have already led to some vendors upgrading their plants. But the company has said it would not sign on to the accord because of a provision that could allow victims of future factory accidents to sue the companies in U.S. courts.
Walmart, Gap and other large retailers are moving forward with developing an alternative safety plan with the help of former U.S. Sens. George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
"We are committed to Bangladesh," Gardner said. "We understand the role that we play in improving the livelihood of factory workers in that country. And improving the safety of those workers is very important to us."
But Walmart's approach of naming factories as "red-failed/unauthorized" has led to criticism in the Bangladeshi garment community that Walmart is trying to shift blame rather than serve as a partner.
"What Wal-Mart is doing at the moment is nothing but saving its own skin," Reaz Bin Mahmood of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Reuters. "As a responsible business partner they should stay with us and help improve working conditions for the safety and security of workers."
Recent research has assigned mango “functional foods” status. Mango can help clear up skin, promote eye health, stave off diabetes and even prevent the formation and spread of cancer
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”— George Bernard Shaw
Conventional thinking is that mango is bad for diabetics and the obese. However, recent research reveals an altogether new vista about the super-food status of mango. In scientific parlance, mango can be assigned the ‘functional foods’ status which have, in addition to the food value, therapeutic value too. Among the most popular fresh fruits in the world, mangoes are more than just a delicious, refreshing treat produced by nature. As evidenced by scientific research, mangoes are also a powerful medicinal food, as they contain nutrients that can help “clear up skin, promote eye health, stave off diabetes and even prevent the formation and spread of cancer.”
At a recent meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), it was revealed that eating mangoes daily can help moderate blood sugar levels. In three months, the blood sugar levels of the mango-eating animals compared with the ones without mango in their diet showed a significant fall. This is good news for diabetics!
“Although the mechanism by which mango exerts its effects warrants further investigation, we do know that mangoes contain a complex mixture of polyphenolic compounds,” was the opinion of Dr Edralin Lucas, PhD, author of the study. Similar research in Australia, way back in 2006, had found that eating mangoes can also help decrease inflammation and the resulting high cholesterol, as well as many other abnormalities, together called the metabolic syndrome.
However, I am a bit sceptical about research on animals, that too in mice, that is extrapolated to humans. We have burnt our fingers in the past. Teaching nature a lesson or two by manipulating animals in place of humans might not be the future direction for research. Future is for bio-mimicry, where we learn from nature to see how animals maintain their health in the wild without outside interference.
Mangoes have been shown to help cancer management. Most of the thousands of anti-oxidant phytochemicals found in the plant kingdom are also present in mangoes. The phytochemicals inside a mango primarily scavenge damaging free radicals in the body and protect our body cells. The cell damage by free radicals is the basis of most cancers. If one were to isolate the anti-oxidants in mangoes and make drugs from those chemicals, they will not work because of hormesis which shows how small quantities of a drug in natural habitat could be bio-positive. But the same drug in larger doses, as a reductionist chemical in isolation, becomes bio-negative.
Dr Susanne Talcott and her husband who, together, found that mango compounds kill cancer cells, especially of breast and colon cancers, think that mango is a super-food. All cancer cell lines do not seem to respond to mango. Breast and colon cancer cells respond very well to mangoes and showed increased apoptosis-programmed cell death of the cancer cells. Curiously, mango does not damage normal cells. Mango does effectively kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells. Nobel Laureate biologist, Albert Szent-Györgyi, worried about cancer treatment as he felt that there could be no way one could use a drug to kill cancer cells while protecting the normal cells as both cells work identically. Nature is a wonderful doctor.
Indians can benefit from this wisdom as we have plenty of mangoes even for the poor man. However, that said, I must admit that animal studies alone could be misleading, to say the least. If I were a diabetic, I would not gorge on mangoes. Rather, I would cautiously eat mangoes for a month and see what happens to my sugar levels. If they are fine or better, I would continue to eat mangoes.
A word of advice for all diabetics is in order. Please do not eat fruits with a meal. Every diabetic needs fresh fruits; but that fruit must be a stand-alone meal between two main meals. If I were a diabetic, I would eat small meals at least six times a day to keep the metabolism on an even keel. Two of such meals could be only fruits. Hope mangoes will soon be proven to be a super-food through human research.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS
The union government has issued an advertisement, calling applications from the civil society to fill up the posts of central information commissioners. How genuine will be the exercise this time on the backdrop of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj having pulled the rug on transparency last time?
The intention is good but what will be the outcome?
Recently, the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) published advertisements seeking applications for the posts of central information commissioners. The advertisement stated, as required by the RTI Act that: “…the Information Commissioners (ICs) shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass-media or administration and governance.’’
While it is a good move towards transparency (the last time a similar appeal had been made in 2011), the advertisement has appeared only in a prominent English newspaper. Perhaps, inserting them in several well-circulated regional newspapers would have brought out a wider choice. Nevertheless, here’s urging those who are eligible to please apply for the posts, so that the domination of babus would be overpowered by strong civil society leaders – examples having been set by former CICs, social activist Shailesh Gandhi and eminent journalist Vijay Kuvalekar.
This step by the DoPT comes after the furore over the Supreme Court judgment in the Namit Sharma case, which has ordered that the information commissioner’s office should comprise a two-member bench, with one of them having judicial background. What followed was a complete stagnation in the functioning of information commissions, as they awaited implementation of one more IC from judicial background.
However, in the review petition on 16 April 2013, it was made clear that, “… subject to orders that may be finally passed after hearing the Review Petitions, the competent authority will continue to fill up the vacant posts of Information Commissioners in accordance with the Act and in accordance with the judgment in W.P.(C) No. 210 of 2012 except sub-paras 108.8 and 108.9 which we have stayed. This is to ensure that functioning of the Information Commissioners in accordance with the Act and the Judgment is not affected during the pendency of the Review Petitions…We further make it clear that the Chief Commissioners already functioning will continue to function until the disposal of the Review Petitions.’’
The move has been welcomed by RTI activist Krishnaraj Rao who says, “It is a great victory and opportunity for civil society; we must take full advantage of it! I urge all serious-minded and knowledgeable activists apply in large numbers. Kindly motivate all suitable candidates to apply, to ensure that favourite government officials are not their only choice.’’
For those interested, 28th June is the last date and here are the relevant details: “Persons fulfilling the criteria for appointment as Information Commissioner and interested for appointment to the post, may send their particulars in the enclosed pro-forma by post to Under Secretary (RTI), Department of Personnel and Training, North Block, New Delhi or through e-mail to [email protected] by June 28th, 2013.”
The rider though is that, “It may be noted that these appointments would be subject to the outcome of Review Petition (C) no. 2309 of 2012 pending before the Supreme Court.’’
RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), has campaigned for transparency rigorously in appointment of Information Commissioners through persistently filing RTI applications with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). As a result, the PMO directed that IC posts be advertised and a select committee be set up to scrutinise and shortlist candidates. However, Batra is cynical this time round, when he says that, “I hope it is not a sham/ eyewash like last time where Leader of Opposition (Sushma Swaraj from BJP) insisted on her candidates at the cost of civil society candidates shortlisted for selection’’.
In 2012, journalists, Sona Jha and Dr Anuradha Verma along with social activist Venkatesh Nayak, were three of the nine candidates selected out of the 214 applications that came in from citizens. A committee headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had shortlisted two bureaucrats, Rajiv Mathur and Vijai Sharma besides Sushma Swaraj had recommended Basant Seth as information commissioners.
A RTI reply to Batra revealed that Swaraj also recommended another IAS officer, Raghu Menon who was not in the nine shortlisted candidates, thus making a mockery of the names that were shortlisted by a screening committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth. Thus, all the three civil society members were unfairly rejected. Says Batra. “So, at the end of it, the selection committee’s efforts became null and void as Swaraj bullied herself through.’’
Now, this time round will there be some other attempt of `favouritism’ or will the `selected’ civil society candidates will have to be sacrificed after the SC judgment which is pending orders that one of the two bench comes from the judicial background?
Besides, what are the parameters by which the select committee shortlists the applicants? Despite a laid out criterion by the DoPT, level of transparency is not as satisfactory. Well-known RTI activist, Vijay Kumbhar adds that, “the scrutiny committee should be stringent and should make their selection more transparent by allocating marks for the knowledge of RTI and calibre of the candidate. We have been observing that most information commissioners study RTI only after they are posted as information commissioners, or worse, do not care to do so. This has largely destroyed the quality of orders by information commissioners, across the country.’’
Quite clearly, only a superficial attempt at transparency is not enough. It has to be clear of political intervention and vested interest.
Reproducing below is the appeal for application as posted on the DoPT website: http://ccis.nic.in/WriteReadData/CircularPortal/D2/D02rti/4_3_2013-IR.pdf
F. No.4/3/2013 — IR
Government of India
Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions
(Department of Personnel and Training)
North Block, New Delhi
Dated: May 31st, 2013
Subject: Appointment of Information Commissioners in the Central
The Government of India has constituted a body under the Right to Information
Act, 2005 (the Act) known as the Central Information Commission to exercise the
powers conferred on and to perform the functions assigned to it under the Act. It is located in New Delhi. The Commission shall have the Chief Information Commissioner and up to ten Information Commissioners. The present composition of the Central Information Commission can be seen at www.cic.crov.in. The powers and functions of an Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission are as per chapter V of the Act.
2. It is proposed to appoint more Information Commissioners in the Commission. The Act provides that the Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass-media or administration and governance.
3. Further, the Information Commissioner shall not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union Territory, as the case may be, or hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession. It is clarified that sation/termination of holding of office of profit, pursuing any profession or carrying any business is a condition precedent to the appointment of a person as Information Commissioner.
4. An Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office or till he attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. The salary and allowances payable to an Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner, subject to adjustment of the pensionary/retirement benefits availed by him, if any, in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
5. Persons fulfilling the criteria for appointment as Information Commissioner and interested for appointment to the post may send their particulars in the enclosed proforma by post to Under Secretary (RTI), Department of Personnel and Training, North Block, New Delhi or through e-mail to [email protected] by June 28th, 2013.
Persons, who are serving under the State/Central Government or any other Organization, may send their particulars through proper channel.
6. It may be noted that these appointments would be subject to the outcome of
Review Petition (C) no. 2309 of 2012 pending before the Hon'ble Supreme Court.
Proforma for sending particulars for consideration for the post of Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission
Please affix the latest passport size photograph
1. Name :
2. Date of Birth :
3. Present Address :
4. Contact No.
a) Telephone (along with STD code)
5. E-mail Address :
6. Educational Qualification :
7. Area of Eminence :
8. Present Occupation :
9. Achievements/Work Experience
(in brief) :
Date : Signature :Place : Name :
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)