In the wake of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Bangladesh at the end of November, where more than 111 workers lost their lives, Wal-Mart has announced a series of new rules for its suppliers. Clothing for the US-based retailer was being manufactured at the site, without its authorisation, and its new guidelines are aimed at improving safety standards. Details are outlined below. 

The new guidelines, outlined in a 10-page letter sent to its supply chain this week, reiterate that all suppliers of Wal-Mart merchandise must disclose names and locations of all their facilities, which must be audited before products are "manufactured, augmented or packaged" there.

It will have zero tolerance for unauthorised subcontracting, and will terminate its relationship with any supplier engaging in unauthorised subcontracting when sourcing merchandise for Wal-Mart.

New facilities will also have to reach a higher standard before suppliers are allowed to do business with them, with factories having to pass a pre-qualifying audit with a green or yellow rating before being made active. Orange rated facilities may no longer be used.

All suppliers are required to employ a representative, and not just an agent, to ensure compliance with Wal-Mart's Ethical Sourcing requirements in all countries it uses to supply Wal-Mart products.  

And any facilities subcontracting the sourcing of Wal-Mart merchandise to an undisclosed or unauthorised facility are subject to a 'red-failed' assessment and may be permanently barred from sourcing merchandise to Wal-Mart for all retail markets.

Fire safety standards

  • No locked doors. Doors should have push-bar operation for easy exit in case of emergency.
  • Barred windows must have an internal mechanism for emergency release or removal to allow for worker escape and must remain unlocked.
  • All floors and buildings, including dormitories, must have a secondary exit, and preferably an external fire escape route.
  • Fire escape routes must lead to safe assembly points without any obstructions. 
  • Assembly points must be designated and marked as such and must be kept clear at all times.
  • Proper access for fire department vehicles and other fire-fighting equipment in the factory premises.
  • Adequate water supply for sprinkler and fire hydrant systems. 
  • Audible, visible and operable smoke alarms placed appropriately throughout the building with at least the minimum number required by law.
  • Audible and operable fire alarms that can be heard in all parts of the building, that operate as one system amongst all floors and areas of the building.
  • Marked and lighted exit routes for all floors and areas of the building, including stairwells. Emergency lights to be fire grade ‘industrial emergency lights' for use in smoke and fire environments.
  • Quarterly joint fire drills including all floors of the building to be overseen by an external party, such as the fire authority, for timely and effective personnel evacuation. Documentation of these drills must be retained by the facility for review during any visit to the facility.
  • Fire safety training conducted for all personnel every 6 months.
  • Personnel on-boarding process should include fire safety training upon hiring
  • Trained firefighters for each floor of the facility.
  • Valid fire license where required by law.
  • Valid construction approval where required by law.
  • Hazardous/flammable chemicals must be kept away from ignition sources
  • Crèche/childcare facilities must be on the ground floor of the building, preferably located in a separate non-industrial facility.

Factories in Bangladesh will have additional safety requirements.

All facilities must go through a mandatory electrical and building safety assessment provided by a credible independent external certification agency. Production may not begin until after the facility has passed the full ethical sourcing prequalification process, which includes the electrical and building safety assessment. Production in a facility that has not been prequalified will be deemed unauthorised subcontracting.

Facilities that meet any of the below criteria will be considered red-unauthorised and will no longer be eligible for Wal-Mart production in any market:

  • Residential building converted into an industrial facility.
  • Facilities in multi-story building with a ground-floor marketplace or commercial shops on any floor.
  • Facilities in multi-story building shared with other factories/enterprises under separate ownership.
  • Facilities with a rooftop that does not meet legal requirements and is not 100% clear.
  • Facilities where there is a residence located within the building.
  • Evacuation must lead to a designated assembly point clear of the main roads and other obstructions during an emergency.

A look at how the industry has responded to the updated supplier rules can be found here.