Report slams Walmart for 'exploitative' conditions in Asia factories

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Workers at Asia factories that supply Walmart, H&M and Gap are still being exploited in sweatshop conditions, three years after the deadly collapse of a Bangladeshi factory, according to a worker rights group.

Workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia who make clothes for Walmart (WMT) face "intensive labour exploitation and abuse," according to a report released Tuesday by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an international coalition of trade unions and human rights organizations.

In 2013, a building collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,127 garment workers, creating an international outcry about the human toll of making cheap, fast fashion clothes for wealthier nations like the U.S.

But a series of reports from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance suggests that little has been done to improve conditions for garment workers in developing Asian nations.

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance says its report "identifies persistent rights violations" against Walmart (WMT)supply chain workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia. The report is based on interviews with 344 workers, many of them women, at 80 Walmart supplier factories. It says that many of the workers, particularly in Cambodia and India, complained of sexual harassment.

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The report identifies specific problems in each country. For example, it says that most Cambodians in Walmart supplier factories work under "highly exploitative" contracts that "leave them susceptible to unsafe working conditions, low wages, denial of benefits and harsh penalties for engaging in union activity -- including termination of employment." This includes "forced overtime" during Cambodia's hottest season, leading to "mass fainting episodes resulting from over exertion, exacerbated by inadequate nutrition."

The report also says that Walmart (WMT) "refused" to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a pact by 190 clothing brands as well as trade unions to inspect factories for fire, electrical and structural safety. Gap didn't join the accord, either. Instead, Walmart and Gap formed a group called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Guillermo Meneses, spokesman for the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, said his group has compensated factory workers, trained them in fire safety and provided a factory worker helpline for fire safety and "worker empowerment."

But this has not improved conditions, according to the report.

The alliance also targeted Gap (GPS) in a separate report, complaining of forced overtime, poverty level wages and physical punishment or illegal termination of workers in Bangladesh, including pregnant women.

"Gap lies far behind other brands in their commitments to decent work and safe workplaces," says the report.

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Gap spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson told CNNMoney that "we recognize that the global apparel industry still faces challenges." She said the company is working with garment workers, suppliers, unions and governments "to develop solutions that matter most to workers and contribute most directly to improving their lives."

Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, of which it is a member, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, of which it is not, "are essentially parallel paths forward," with "a common goal to improve the lives of garment workers in Bangladesh by upgrading factory fire and safety conditions."

H&M did join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, along with Adidas (ADDDF), American Eagle, Fruit of the Loom and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF). But that didn't stop the alliance from issuing a third, scathing report about H&M, alleging "intensive labour exploitation and abuse faced by workers in H&M supply chains in Cambodia and India."

A spokeswoman for H&M said, "H&M has been working actively for many years to help strengthen the textile workers' conditions. The challenges addressed in the report on industry wide and we firmly believe that in addition to our efforts as an individual company, collaboration is key."

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