Even with such efforts, Rajan fears that the migration of sewing jobs to China and other lower-cost countries can't be stopped, only slowed.
Target Corp. and other retailers.
Wilburn's employer, Oxford Industries of Atlanta, once owned 44 factories in the American South. It shuttered them all in the last 15 years and moved the work to cheaper locales. That's how Wilburn found himself in Honduras.
He is proud of his clean, modern factory. "It's nicer than the one I ran in South Carolina," Wilburn said.
Still, he has had trouble turning a profit. He laid off 500 employees two years ago. Even here, it's hard to meet Wal-Mart's prices. Wilburn expects that Oxford will close his factory in the next few years and move on to another country where basic cotton clothes, such as Wal-Mart's Old Glory khaki pants, can be produced for less.
"Our business is a lot of twill stuff," he said. "That will be gone."
Waving the Flag
It wasn't long ago that Wal-Mart was fighting to keep manufacturing jobs on U.S. soil.
In 1985, founder Sam Walton launched his "Bring It Home to the USA" program. "Wal-Mart believes American workers can make a difference," he told his suppliers, offering to pay as much as 5% more for U.S.-made products.
In his 1992 memoir, "Made in America," Walton claimed that the program had saved or created nearly 100,000 jobs by using "the power of this enormous enterprise as a force for change."
But the late Walton's much-trumpeted effort soon was overtaken by the rise of the global economy. The spread of the Internet and other technology, along with U.S.-led efforts to tear down trade barriers, made it easier to move goods and capital across borders.
To maintain its edge on pricing, Wal-Mart quietly joined other retailers in a worldwide search for the cheapest sources of production.
In apparel, the process begins with Celia Clancy. From a renovated warehouse near the company's headquarters, the Wal-Mart executive vice president oversees the world's largest clothing budget, estimated at $35 billion in 2000.
Clancy gives her buyers a "Plus One" mandate every year: For each item they handle, they must either lower the cost or raise the quality.
To demonstrate, she pulled a pair of girls' shorts off the wall of her cramped office and gave them a tug.
"This was a dumb little knit pull-on short," Clancy said. "We improved the fabric, put some more fashion in it and are selling it for the same price as last year — $5.19."
Keeping prices low like this means squeezing costs at every step. Clancy and her buyers have trimmed back the number of brands, styles and color schemes. That allows Wal-Mart to consolidate its purchases of fabric, accessories and thread and to wrangle steep discounts from suppliers.
Clancy's buyers used to rely on a Hong Kong company and other intermediaries to find bargains overseas. This year, Wal-Mart established its own global procurement division to hunt for the cheapest raw materials, manufacturers and shipping routes. Last year, for instance, the company rerouted cargo from a port in Hong Kong to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where shipping rates were lower. The savings: $650,000.