Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in the world and the poster child for corporate globalization gone awry. It owns 6,689 stores in 15 countries worldwide and employs 1.3 million workers in the United States and 500,000 abroad, as well as millions more in the factories of its suppliers. Because of the company's enormity, its business model has a huge influence on workers, businesses and communities around the world; so far Wal-Mart has used that influence to ruthlessly drive down costs as a means of making profit, violating a vast array of human rights and labor rights along the way.
Many people have heard of the way that Wal-Mart steamrolls its way into every possible town, destroying local supermarkets, countless small businesses and even historical sites. We have also heard about Wal-Mart's long track record of worker abuse, from forced overtime to sex discrimination to illegal child labor to relentless union busting. Wal-Mart also notoriously fails to provide health insurance to over half of its employees, who are then left to rely on themselves or taxpayers, who provide for a portion of their healthcare needs through government Medicaid.
Less well known is the fact that Wal-Mart maintains its low price level by allowing substandard labor conditions at the overseas factories producing most of its goods. The company continually demands lower prices from its suppliers, who, in turn, make more outrageous and abusive demands on their workers in order to meet Wal-Mart's requirements. In September 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Wal-Mart supplier sweatshop workers in China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Swaziland. The workers were denied minimum wages, forced to work overtime without compensation, and were denied legally mandated health care. Other worker rights violations that have been found in foreign factories that produce goods for Wal-Mart include locked bathrooms, starvation wages, pregnancy tests, denial of access to health care, and workers being fired and blacklisted if they try to defend their rights.
Wal-Mart also spends millions of dollars lobbying against community zoning standards and employee health legislation, and contributes additional millions to political candidates who support the company’s economic agenda.
Global Exchange believes we need a grassroots movement to demand an end to Wal-Mart's policies that are harming human beings, their communities and the environment. Please join us in educating consumers about the hidden costs of Wal-Mart’s low prices, and taking action to reform Wal-Mart before it does more damage to our world and convinces other corporations to follow its example.