Reporting on Sweatshops When Your Boss Is in the Sweatshop Business

ABC World News has done two pretty tough reports from Brian Ross on the horrible fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 114 workers.

On November 25, Ross talked about the

shameful record, as previously reported by ABC News, of more than 600 garment factory fire deaths in Bangladesh over the last five years, a place of the cheapest labor in the world and some of the most deplorable conditions.

And Ross named names:

Workers’ activists went into the burned-out remains today to document which major retailers they say were using the Tazreen factory. They say they found labels for Faded Glory, a Wal-Mart private label, along with labels they say tracked back to Sears and a clothing company owned by Sean Combs.

“Walmart and other American companies are looking at a tragedy overseas among workers making clothes for their stores to sell at Christmas,” said anchor Diane Sawyer the next night (11/26/12).

“The Tazreen factory was a death trap,” Ross told viewers. And as he explained, it’s not alone:

As we found in an ABC World News investigation earlier this year, many of the best-known American retailers, including Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap, have been drawn to Bangladesh, drawn by the cheapest labor in the world, as low as 21 cents an hour, producing clothes in often crowded, deplorable conditions that would be illegal most anywhere else, certainly in the U.S.

But anyone who knows anything about ABC knows that it is owned by Disney– certainly among the “best-known American retailers,” and a company that has seen its share of controversy over the “deplorable conditions” for workers at some of its overseas suppliers.

And now the Associated Press is reporting that Disney clothing has been found at the Tazreen factory. The AP story notes that a reporter “also found entries in account books indicating that the factory took orders to produce clothes for Disney, Sears and other Western brands.”

So how do ABC journalists report on a sweatshop tragedy that could implicate their own bosses? Look back at Ross’ March investigation of Bangladesh sweatshops. Disney’s name doesn’t come up– but Ross did chase down (literally) Tommy Hilfiger for comment about his company’s business practices.

ABC is not unaware of the news. At their website, a story on the fire has been updated with the following:

Late Tuesday the Associated Press reported that Disney was also among the factory’s customers. For its original report on the factory fire, ABC News was told by a Disney representative that the company’s third party supplier assured them none of their orders had been placed at the Tazreen factory. A spokesperson for Disney, parent company of ABC and ABC News, did not immediately return additional off-hour requests for comment on the AP report early Wednesday morning.

This is not a new problem for ABC. The World News broadcast had a series starting last year called “Made in America” that tried to goad consumers into changing their buying habits to build American jobs– as if consumer choice could somehow trump corporate profiteering. ABC named names then too, telling viewers which toy brands were made where.

Except for one company, whose name was never mentioned: Disney. Will this time be any different?

UPDATE: Give credit to ABC’s Ross, who last night (11/28/12) mentioned the AP’s findings regarding Disney. He also passed along Disney’s response, pointing out that the company–just like others linked to the Tazreen factory– claims that the factory in question should not have been used by any of its licensees.