Walmart supply chain workers unite, demand justice

Workers from Walmart’s supply chain on August 9 rallied together in Los Angeles and presented a formal ethics complaint about their working conditions to Walmart executives.

There’s a pattern among Walmart contractors that supply the retail giant with the low-cost items that stock the company’s discount stores, said Guadalupe Palma, campaign director for Warehouse Workers United in a statement about the action. “No matter the country, no matter the workplace, no matter the worker, we see that Walmart and its contractors deny responsibility, ignore serious problems, and fire workers who stand up for change.”

Among those on hand to present the ethics complaint was Ana Diaz, one of eight workers at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana who went on strike to protest abuses at the seafood processing plant where they work.

On June 4, Diaz and seven of her cohorts walked off the job because their employer made them work 24-hour days, didn’t pay them overtime, locked them in the plant during work hours, kept them under constant surveillance, and threatened those who complained with violence.

With the help of the National Guestworkers Alliance, the strikers,  guest workers from Mexico, filed wage complaints with the US Department of Labor, health and safety complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

They also took their complaints to Walmart, which is supposed to monitor its contractors to ensure that their workers are treated fairly.

An initial investigation conducted by Walmart  found no evidence of wrong doing by its contractor. “Following our investigation, as well as investigations by the Department of Labor and OSHA, at this time we are unable to substantiate claims of forced labor or human trafficking at CJ Seafood,” said Walmart spokeswoman Megan Murphy in an email to the Daily Beast.

The Workers Rights Consortium conducted its own investigation and on June 26 issued a report of its findings. Working conditions at CJ’s Seafood “(rivals) any sweatshops in China or Bangladesh,” said Scott Nova, WRC executive director in announcing the results of the investigation.

Walmart on June 30 backtracked on its original assessment and announced that it was suspending purchases from CJ’s Seafood because its investigation found violations at the company’s plant.

In July, the Department of Labor announced that it would seek nearly $214,000 in unpaid wages and penalties from CJ’s Seafood and OSHA fined the company $34,000 for health and safety violations.

Conditions at CJ’s Seafood are not an exception for Walmart contractors. The National Guestworkers Alliance conducted a survey of Walmart contractors that hire guestworkers and found that 12 of the 18 contractors in the audit sample had been cited for 622 violations of federal health, safety, or wage and hour laws. In addition, about a dozen discrimination suits had been filed against the contractors.

Earlier in the year workers at seafood and pineapple processing plants in Thailand owned by Walmart contractors walked off the job to protest debt slavery and other oppressive conditions at the factories where they worked.

Warehouse workers in Southern California have successfully forced Walmart contractors to pay them wages that were illegally withheld.

It’s these oppressive conditions and others like them throughout the world that brought together guestworkers from Louisiana, warehouse workers from Southern California, food processing workers from Thailand, and Walmart employees at the site of a proposed new Walmart store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown to demand that Walmart take responsibility for the worker abuse that takes place throughout the retail giant’s supply chain.

Speakers at the Los Angeles rally said that it would take a united effort to get justice from Walmart. “Globalization for the working poor of the world means that American warehouse workers today have more in common with factory workers in Thailand’s shrimp and pineapple factories than with the one-percenters in their own country who profit from their labor,” said Chancee Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, representing the Thai workers.

“Hyper-exploitation is the global labor standard Walmart has chosen to pursue,” he added.  “This just means the fight for justice for Walmart’s workers is that much bigger. Thailand may seem far away to the Walton heirs, but we are going to bring the plight of Thai workers to the suburbs of Arkansas. You bring home the profits, you bring home the struggle too.”

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