An investigation by the Wall Street Journal has uncovered Amazon.com selling goods produced in banned Bangladeshi factories.

The findings have been collected through rigorous research using data such as shipping records, interviews with Bangladeshi factory employees and people in the garment industry in New York, as well as Bangladeshi factory inspection reports.

Bangladeshi factories: Human rights and safety concern

The aforementioned discovery is displeasing and shocking due to Bangladesh’s history of poor factory working conditions and the severe consequences of the same.

Bangladeshi factories are known to be plagued with an array of safety issues ranging from fire alarms that can be locked to crumbling walls and pillars waiting to collapse.

The Rana Plaza accident – in which a factory caved in on itself and claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people and injured many others – conveyed the extent of the danger poor infrastructure can impose on a factory’s employees.

After the incident, Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety took steps to improve the working conditions of Bangladeshi workers and factories.

Under this initiative, factories are inspected and those that don’t offer adequately safe working conditions for employees are banned.

In addition, the activist groups enter a legally binding agreement with retailers across the world that mandates the retailers to stop selling goods from banned factories in their online and physical stores.

A number of big retailers including Target, Costco, and Walmart are a part of this initiative, but Amazon isn’t.

Are Amazon’s third-party sellers and poor regulatory actions at fault?

It is important to note that brands Amazon owns and markets on the site source their goods from factories with approved safety standards. However, one source from Bangladesh also told the WSJ that Amazon didn’t bother to check for regulatory certification when partnering with the manufacturer.

When approached about these allegations, an Amazon spokesperson said the company isn’t in charge of monitoring how ethical third-party participants of their supply chain are. He further added that Amazon assumes and expects all retailers to abide by established safety standards. However, as mentioned above, Amazon seems to remain meticulous about the wholesale retailers of its own brands.

The WSJ investigation found a number of products from banned factories being sold by third-party sellers on Amazon, such as a yellow gingham children’s top, ski clothing, polo shirts, jackets, etc. Amazon was contacted regarding all of them, and they promptly took down the listings.

Amazon.com which is the largest online marketplace and sells millions of products on a monthly basis remains unfazed from all such allegations. In FY’18 the company clocked 30.9% YoY growth in revenue that reached $232.8 billion. Over 50% of Amazon’s revenue comes from products.

It seems that Amazon as a company respects safety rules when it comes to its own brands. But at the same time, its stance on the actions of its third-party vendors is too ambiguous to be favourably looked upon.

There seems to be a need for strict regulatory screening of third-party sellers to prevent Amazon from facing unwelcomed scrutiny, especially given that it’s currently under fire from the US Congress.

This is, however, not the first time when Amazon is accused of exercising unethical practices. Earlier this year, investigators found thousands of banned and unsafe products listed on Amazon.com.

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