‘They have blood on their hands’: Meet Wal-Mart’s worst nightmare

Salon: Fired while trying to unionize her sweatshop as a teenager and then jailed while mobilizing other workers to resist, Kalpona Akter is now a key leader in the Bangladesh labor movement – a cause cast into an intermittent spotlight by horrific disasters and mass strikes. Over the past year, Akter — now executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity — has salvaged and exposed U.S. brands’ garments from the site of a deadly factory fire, challenged Wal-Mart from the floor of its shareholder meeting, and sought to transform the fashion industry by organizing in concert with U.S. fashion models. (Wal-Mart has blamed production of Wal-Mart apparel in factories where disasters later took place on rogue suppliers, and said in July that the industry-backed safety plan it helped instigate “will move quickly and decisively to create uniform safety standards.”)

I sat down with Akter last week in New York, where she had addressed a conference. In an hour-long conversation, we discussed the alleged murder of her activist colleague, what role Western companies and customers play in shaping Bangladesh working conditions, and what connects Bangladesh garment sweatshops and U.S. fashion photo shoots. What follows is an edited and condensed version of our conversation. [Continue reading…]

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