'Walmart Kills' protest halts port traffic

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- About 30 protesters halted traffic outside the Wando Terminal Thursday morning.

Police had to divert incoming trucks from Long Point Road and monitored the situation from across the street as protesters chanted "From U.S. to Bangladesh, no more Walmart factory deaths."

"You won't see it in the containers, but there is blood and smoke and fire on those clothes because of the way they were produced," said George Hopkins, spokesperson for the protesters. "The cost of human lives is unacceptable. This is the high price of cheap clothes for Americans."

Allison Skipper with the South Carolina Ports Authority said she expected operations to return to normal sooner than later despite the "peaceful demonstration by an activist group presumably about imported garments from a factory in Bangladesh where workers died in a fire."

She was right -- the gates were back open less than two hours after the protest started.

The picketing group, including some longshoreman, said they were picketing over a Walmart Factory Fire in Bangladesh in which over a hundred people died.

Walmart officials, when asked about Thursday's protest, pointed to a Bloomberg interview with CEO Mike Duke.

"We will not buy from an unsafe factory," Duke said in an interview with Bloomberg.

"This is not a price discussion," Duke said in the interview. "This is just a case if a factory is not going to operate with high standards then we will not purchase from that factory, and there's no discussion about price."

Last month, a garment factory fire in Bangladesh killed 112 people. Government officials investigated and said they found that the blaze was sabotage, probably by someone who worked there.

The panel said that no matter who set the fire, the owner of the factory also should be punished for the deaths because he neglected worker safety.

Some government and garment industry officials had alleged soon after the Nov. 24 fire that it was an act of sabotage, though a fire official said casualties would have been greatly reduced if the factory had followed safety rules.

The factory lacked emergency exits and Hossain has said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off.

The four-member committee submitted its report to the government Monday. At least two other investigations are continuing.

According to fliers from the protesters, rallying behind the hashtag, #BlockTheBoat, they wanted to "establish a picket of resistance to the landing of the cargo aboard the Carolina Maersk, a containership bringing clothing manufactured at the factory where 112 garment workers were burned to death in Bangladesh to Charleston."

"Walmart is the largest employer of Bangladesh garment workers," said Hopkins. "They have a responsibility to see that the factories in which these workers make these clothes are safe and healthy. They have been repeatedly asked to participate in a comprehensive fire protection program. They have refused. This is not the first fire in which workers have died in garment factories in Bangladesh and it probably won't be the last unless something changes which is why we're here today."

More protests are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 22 at the Wando Crossing Walmart in Mount Pleasant, the North Charleston Walmart on Rivers Ave., and the West Ashley Walmart on West Ashley Circle.

"We want Walmart to compensate the families of these victims," said Hopkins. "We want them to sign on to this comprehensive fire safety code. We want them to pay their employees living wages, allow them to unionize and we also want them to take responsibility for the health and safety conditions in their factories where their clothes are made."