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Tag Archives: wal-mart

Following the recent collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,129 workers and injured 2,500 more, over 70 companies, mostly Europeans, signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This Accord was rejected by most US companies, who instead announced the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative agreement, led by Wal-Mart and the Gap and signed by 17 companies.

The Wal-Mart/Gap agreement recreates the primary weaknesses of private monitoring, the centerpiece of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the global apparel industry for over a decade.

The consensus among researchers is that CSR monitoring has done little to improve the industry.  Although there is evidence that standard payment of wages and health and safety conditions have improved in some factories, overall we have seen a decline in real wages, a rise in the use of temporary and contract labor, the continuation of millions of dollars in wage theft, and the deaths of workers by violence, fires and building collapse.

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J. Jill employee via Life Magazine

I’ve started to notice more “help wanted” signs in retail stores.  Does this mean that the economy is recovering?  People may be shopping more, and stores may be hiring more.  But retail jobs will never improve this economy unless retail jobs are improved.

In this industry, full-time schedules are rare—most people are hired on a temporary and part-time basis—and pay is slightly more than minimum wage.  These jobs offer neither benefits nor opportunities for advancement.  Although many stores advertise “flexible” schedules, hours are worked only “as needed,” with schedules and hours shifting from one week to the next with little advance warning.  Workers cannot support themselves on the wages from these jobs.

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Wal-Mart Warehouse in Chile

Warehouse work, hidden by its very nature from the view of the general public, is increasingly a low wage job. Dave Jamieson, a reporter for the Huffington Post recently wrote an excellent piece on working conditions inside U.S. warehouses http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/20/new-blue-collar-temp-warehouses_n_1158490.html. While his discoveries about piece rate systems and subcontracting are not new, he shows how the industry has significantly changed in the last decade. The article reminded me a lot of my early work on the garment industry in Los Angeles, where mostly Asian and Latina workers toiled in sweatshops. It has become clear that warehouse work for corporations such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon are examples of the new American sweatshop. Read More

In April I participated in the union assembly of Wal-Mart warehouse workers in Santiago, Chile. When I was invited to the meeting I thought to myself “how many workers are really going to come to a meeting on a Sunday morning at 9am.” Much to my surprise, the union had rented a theatre. Of the 1500 warehouse workers in Santiago, 1200 showed up that morning. I was blown away.

Wal-Mart workers in Chile are overwhelmingly unionized. This is in stark contrast to the U.S. situation where workers who have been trying to unionize have been shut down time and again with Wal-Mart’s aggressive anti-union tactics.

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