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Fabulous piece in the New York Times painting a complex picture of how the process of auditing and inspecting foreign factories is often problematic at best.

An excerpt:

"An extensive examination by The New York Times reveals how the inspection system intended to protect workers and ensure manufacturing quality is riddled with flaws. The inspections are often so superficial that they omit the most fundamental workplace safeguards like fire escapes. And even when inspectors are tough, factory managers find ways to trick them and hide serious violations, like child labor or locked exit doors. Dangerous conditions cited in the audits frequently take months to correct, often with little enforcement or follow-through to guarantee compliance."

The story goes on to say that "major companies including Walmart, Apple, Gap and Nike turn to monitoring not just to check that production is on time and of adequate quality, but also to project a corporate image that aims to assure consumers that they do not use Dickensian sweatshops. Moreover, Western companies now depend on inspectors to uncover hazardous work conditions, like faulty electrical wiring or blocked stairways, that have exposed some corporations to charges of irresponsibility and exploitation after factory disasters that killed hundreds of workers.

"The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1,129 workers in April, intensified international scrutiny on factory monitoring, and pressured the world's biggest retailers to sign on to agreements to tighten inspection standards and upgrade safety measures. While many groups consider the accords a significant advance, some longtime auditors and labor groups voice skepticism that inspection systems alone can ensure a safe workplace. After all, they say, the number of audits at Bangladesh factories has steadily increased as the country has become one of the world's largest garment exporters, and still 1,800 workers there have died in workplace disasters in the last 10 years."

The entire sobering story can be read here.

BTW...Bloomberg reports that Walmart has announced that it is "lending $50 million to Bangladesh factory owners, joining global retailers in a push for safer plants in the country after the April collapse of a garment complex killed more than 1,000 ... The loan is part of a combined amount of more than $100 million that a group of North American retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target Corp., pledged in a pact announced in July. Called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the group has said it will set safety standards by October and refuse to buy from factories deemed unsafe.
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