American retail giant Wal-Mart’s aggressive efforts to keep labor unions out of stores worldwide have come under fire across the hemisphere. Workers report how the retail chain systematically violates international labour laws protecting workers’ rights to free association and union organizing.
As the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart has set a precedent for bad working conditions for employees in the United States and abroad.
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 labour 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 labour laws in these countries despite intense opposition from Wal-Mart’s local management.
Worldwide Wal-Mart has been reported for paying employees low salaries and for unfair labor practices. The situation for the retail chain’s employees in Brazil is similar to workers in Argentina. In Mexico, Wal-Mart has faced allegations of unlawful labour practices.
Workers report that Wal-Mart uses humiliating tactics in the stores, in some cases going as far as prohibiting workers from taking bathroom breaks.
In October 2007, workers and human rights activists protested outside a Wal-Mart store to call attention to the retail chain’s working conditions in Argentina.
During a theater performance actors mocked the humiliation that Wal-Mart workers must endure. In one particular scene, a performer explained what a “mystery shopper” is—a supervisor disguised as a customer to spy on Wal-Mart employees. The theatre troop also parodied the mega-store’s pin system, a way to award workers for missing bathroom breaks and working overtime without overtime pay.