Wal-Mart, America’s Anti-Labor Ambassador
Due to weak U.S. labor laws, Wal-Mart’s most impressive violations of workers’ rights take place in the United States, where Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton opened his first store in 1967. The mega chain’s legacy was built over decades based on providing shoppers with low prices, but at the cost of workers, who face aggressive anti-union tactics, low salaries, often no benefits, tight surveillance, and degrading working conditions. In some cases, they are even forced to work without pay and off the clock.
Human Rights Watch’s extensive report “Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of U.S. Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association” details how aggressive efforts to keep out labor unions have often violated federal law and infringed on workers’ rights. The report found that unions and workers had brought 292 cases against Wal-Mart for violating labor laws in the United States.
The mega-chain’s sales have hit record levels since opening stores internationally. Wal-Mart’s total revenues of $315.65 billion for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2006 , would rank it as the twenty-first wealthiest country in the world. Wal-Mart operates approximately 2,700 stores internationally in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, China, Argentina, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Wal-Mart currently employs approximately 1.8 million workers, called “associates,” worldwide, 1.3 million of whom work in the United States. Workers in nations such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have been able to win minimal union representation due to strict labor laws on the books in each country, but not withstanding intense opposition from Wal-Mart’s local management.
The Case in Argentina
Wal-Mart has drawn the attention of Argentine lawmakers for anti-union practices in the corporation’s stores throughout the South American nation. Earlier this year, Argentina’s national congress led an investigation into Wal-Mart’s labor practices in the corporation’s 15 Argentine retail outlets. Following reports of the firing of union delegates and abusive working conditions, Wal-Mart was called before a congressional investigative committee in July 2007.
Dark Pasts in Private Security
In addition to reports of anti-union practices, Wal-Mart has come under public scrutiny for hiring a former military officer connected with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship as head of security. Alfredo Oscar Saint Jean served during the nation’s bloody military junta in cities where clandestine detention centers operated. Outside a Wal-Mart store, human rights representatives participated in an escrache or “exposure” protest calling for an end to impunity for military officers who participated in the systematic disappearance of 30,000 people in the so-called Dirty War.
Human Rights Watch’s report
- “Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of U.S. Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association“
- Day of Action Against Big Box Retailers (November 17, 2007)
- Wal-Mart Watch
- Wal-Mart No
- Wake Up Wal-Mart
These are things too often overlooked by the consuming public …