Wal-Mart accused of abusing workers

10:57, November 27, 2009      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

Wal-Mart was accused Wednesday of violating its ethical standards and forcing employees of its supplier factories in China to work in sweatshop-like conditions, as the world's largest retailer never loosens its grip on rock-bottom prices from suppliers.

New York-based China Labor Watch (CLW) said in its annual investigative report that workers mostly based in the Pearl River Delta of the booming Guangdong Province and who make Christmas lights, tools, shoes, curtains and paper boxes for the retailer, have to endure "illegal and degrading conditions."

Wal-Mart China, which operates 147 stores in this country, responded to the Global Times Thursday that the company will investigate the five factories mentioned in the report, and will take prompt action if any violation is found.

"We'll be responsibly procuring from China as before, and helping our suppliers to meet our strict ethical standards," the statement said.

The factories include Dongguan

Dashing Decoration, Ever Rite, Stanley (Zhongshan) Tool, Wing Fat Paper Box Factory and Dongguan Fanchang Curtain Products.

"The limited number of factory investigations that CLW is able to conduct in a single year is particularly striking," the report said.

The findings included contract violations, severance difficulties, excessive working hours during peak season, excessive fines and poor living conditions.

At most of the workshops at Dashing, for instance, during heavy production periods, workers may work 8 hours of overtime from 7:30 am until 1 am or 2 am the next day, the report said.

Workers generally rest two days per month, it said. The base salary is around $0.65 per hour, and overtime wages are illegally low at rates of $0.44 per hour for regular overtime, 45 percent of the legal minimum.

CLW also found "there was no running water" in Dashing's bathrooms.

"If the accusation is true, Wal-Mart should be denounced by the public," Yang Hanping, deputy head of the China Institute of Industrial Relations, told the Global Times Thursday.

The accusations came as the US retail giant announced third-quarter profits of $3.23 billion, up 3.2 percent from a year ago, beating market expectations.

In a bid to standardize the practice of suppliers, Wal-Mart said last year that it would strive for stricter ethical standards through continuous partnerships, training and development of suppliers in local laws in its much-hailed Supplier Standards code.

Its Supplier Standards cover health and safety issues, compensation, working hours, forced labor, child labor, discrimination, compliance with applicable national laws and regulations.

However, things did not go as well as Wal-Mart expected.

"CLW's finding is not new," said Tai Guangshou, a reporter at the National Business Daily, who has been covering the labor issue for years.

"(Wal-Mart) was also found to have colluded with unlicensed 'black workshops' and sold low-grade products to consumers," Tai said.

His investigative stories in 2007 on 65 suppliers to Wal-Mart revealed that 95 percent of workshops were small and unlicensed ones that generally had fewer than 100 workers.

Li Qiang, the executive director of CLW, who has confronted Wal-Mart on its labor policy several times, told reporters that "our main task is to press those bad companies with consumer movements in the US."

A CLW probe in June 2008 found that the Shenzhen Hantai Shoes Company, one of Wal-Mart's suppliers, forced its laborers to work overtime excessively.

Amid tremendous pressure from the public and media, Wal-Mart has moved to strengthen its monitoring and supervision of its suppliers to prevent worker abuse, the National Business Daily reported Thursday.

The Wal-Mart Ethical Standards Department has visited Hantai Shoe Manufacturing three times and urged the company to overhaul its code of conduct, the paper said.

But CLW found the company forced workers to work five hours longer, or even 12 hours longer, every day to dodge weekend overcharges that are double the regular day income.

An employee surnamed Wang, however, denied CLW's accusations, saying his company's operation has strictly adhered to China's Labor Law.

"Workers voluntarily work overtime, as they want more money," he told the Global Times by telephone.

The worldwide global financial crisis has also been taking its toll on some of the factories. Hantai will declare bankruptcy December 20, Wang said, "due to the financial crisis."

"Wal-Mart will require its suppliers to provide its certification on Cooperate Social Responsibility to assure the company is protecting the rights of laborers," Zhang Jianjun, director of the Department of Sustainable Development and Climate Change at PwC Consulting China, said Thursday.

But he added, "It is necessary for the company to self-examine whether its low-price strategy has resulted in the exploitation of laborers in supplier factories, and whether workers' pay is in line with Chinese laws and regulations," Liu said.

Wal-Mart, which opened its first store in Shenzhen in 1996, has more than 50,000 employees in China, according to its website.

Source: Global Times
  • Do you have anything to say?
Special Coverage
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
Most Popular
Hot Forum Dicussion