Following the publication of two reports (here and here) by China Labor Watch and the National Labor Committee back in mid-December, it would appear that the US retailing behemoth Wal-Mart may find itself up against it, even in the smallest of ways. Fifteen workers from developing countries around the world, including China, have had a class-action suit filed on their behalf, claiming that they were paid less than the minimum wage, had overtime payments withheld and were, in some cases, beaten by their superiors in the workplace.
Comments thus far from Wal-Mart? “We’re just beginning our research to learn more.” So they don’t know what’s going on in their factories. An intriguing admission from such an efficient company. What the China Labor Watch report found was that factory workers are “denied health insurance, maternity leave, paid holiday leave, marital leave or leave to bury family members.” Not to mention the horrendous physical conditions in which they are forced to live and work. Wal-Mart reportedly goes to great lengths to avoid making its factories easily identifiable, which begs the question “why?”, if they are unaware of working conditions there, as they claim to be. It cannot be ignored, however, that Chinese operators of these factories are complicit in breaching both China’s laws and those of the International Labour Organisation. The China Labor Watch report found that in both the factories it investigated, “workers are told exactly what to say to inspectors”, while Impactt, a British organization that works to improve the social impact of businesses around the world, has said recently that efforts made by international companies to improve working standards have simply led to a “response by Chinese factories as to how better to cook the books”. One thing is for sure — any process by which Wal-Mart is brought to account will be a lengthy one — so life for the workers in China’s many sweatshops will see little improvement in the short-term and incidents such as the demise of He Chunmei, a 30-year old woman who died from “overwork” last November, will no doubt continue to be reported.
Shop until they drop: UK stores shocked by conditions in their Chinese factories (The Independent)
Also on Shanghaiist:
Wal-Mart sets up shop in Shanghai
Wal-Mart to build harmonious suppliers
Shanghainese crazy for “Every Day Low Prices”
Image from walmartwatch.com.