Category: Walmart

This week, The Guardian reported that Walmart and other major retailers are selling seafood produced by Burmese migrant workers trafficked onto slave ships in Thailand.

The below statement is by Olivia Guzman, a guestworker in the U.S. seafood industry and member of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), on June 13, 2014:

Olivia-statement-350Watching the report on conditions for workers on these slave ships, I’m angry and appalled. It is clear that slavery is still alive in 2014.

As a longtime migrant worker who came from Mexico to the U.S. on H-2B visas, I know what it means to leave your home to find a way to support your family. Compared to the workers from Burma and Thailand who ended up being sold onto slave ships, my fellow guestworkers and I are privileged. At the same time, we see ourselves in them. We also arrive to a system where bosses hold us in abusive conditions by using threats. For the workers in Thailand the threats are violence and death. For us in the United States the threats are deportation and blacklisting.

I joined the NGA in 2009 because I had seen too much abuse, and I wanted to change it. I worked in seafood processing on the supply chains of Walmart and other retailers for nearly 17 years. My fellow workers and I have often been paid below the minimum wage. We live in crowded labor camps on company property under constant surveillance. We fear firing, deportation, and blacklisting all the time. In one plant supervisors even hit us to make us work faster. When workers spoke up, employers would silence them with the threat of blacklisting: locking workers out of jobs permanently by removing them from the employment list and reporting them to immigration so they would no longer be able to work in the U.S.

As a member of the NGA I met many other workers like me and began to organize. I spoke up in meetings, visited worksites, and brought grievances about the labor camp to my boss.  For that I was blacklisted this season. I knew about this risk, but I knew that if I didn’t speak up, the abuse would keep getting worse. I’ve been encouraging my co-workers here to stand up and organize, and I want to tell the migrant workers enslaved in Thailand to do the same.

Walmart and other major brands should be ashamed of profiting from this abuse, and they should work to stop it. They should take responsibility for conditions we migrant workers face on their supply chains in the U.S. and in Thailand. Walmart is a very powerful company, and if they want to stop this abuse, they can do it.

Stopping buying from a known abuser isn’t enough. Brands need to make sure their suppliers enact protections to block forced labor and threats of retaliation, which keep workers from coming forward to report abuse and exploitation.

That’s why we have launched the NGA Forced Labor Prevention Accord. We urge major retailers like Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, and others to sign the accord as a step toward avoiding this extreme abuse.

Workers around the world have shown bravery to stand up against abuse and forced labor. Big retailers need to do the same.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich,, 323-594-2347

140423-Rana_Plaza_POST(Cross-posted by from Jobs with Justice)

April 24 marks the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, where at least 1,138 people were killed and more than 2,500 were injured. Known as the worst garment industry catastrophe in history, the building collapsed only months after the deadliest factory fire in Bangladesh’s history destroyed the Tazreen factory in Dhaka, killing at least 117 people. Both tragedies occurred at facilities manufacturing garments for highly profitable western brands, including Walmart.

LISTEN to the anniversary webcast with workers and activists on three continents.

Many think these tragedies could have been prevented if the companies had enforced stricter safety protocols and improved working conditions. Walmart had previously demonstrated some willingness to take responsibility for the conditions along its supply chain. The company moved $200,000 to Cambodian workers after a supplier abruptly closed down operations without paying them, signed on to the Fair Food Program with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to boost wages for farmworkers in Florida, and cut its contract with C.J.’s Seafood, a Louisiana seafood supplier, after workers there went on strike to protest forced labor conditions.

Learn more ...

Will immigration reform protect workers?

Josh Eidelson
July 17th, 2013

As House Republicans mull maiming the Senate’s immigration bill, a thousand pundits are asking what their moves will mean for future elections. Meanwhile, far from the spotlight, some courageous immigrant workers are asking whether Congress will finally disarm employers who use immigration status to silence employees. If Congress punts on immigration reform, or merely passes an industry wish list, it will have doubled-down on complicity in a little-discussed trend that’s driving down working conditions for U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike: For too many employers, immigration law is a tool to punish workers who try to organize.

The workers watching Congress include Ana Rosa Diaz, who last year was among the Mexican H-2B visa guest workers at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana, peeling crawfish sold by Walmart. Accounts from workers and an NGO assessment suggest the CJ’s workers had ample grievances, from the manager that threatened them with a shovel, to the worms and lizards in the moldy trailers where they slept, to the swamp fungus that left sticky blisters on their fingers as they raced through shifts that could last twenty hours.

To maintain that miserable status quo, workers allege, management regularly resorted to threats. The most dramatic came in May 2012, when they say CJ’s boss Mike LeBlanc showed up at the start of their 2 a.m. shift to tell them he knew they were plotting against him, and that he knew “bad men” back in Mexico, and to remind them that — through labor recruiters there — he knew where their families lived. Then LeBlanc ticked off some names, including Diaz’s daughter. Diaz told me the threat of violence was all too clear: “I’ve never been so afraid of anybody in my life.”

Long before that speech, CJ’s workers say their managers deployed an all-too-common threat, what they call the “black list”: not just being deported back to Mexico, but being prevented by recruiters there from ever working in the United States again. “That’s what makes us the bosses’ subjects,” Diaz told me in a 2012 interview. “We’ve realized most bosses use the same tactics…” said her co-worker Martha Uvalle. “‘I’ll send you back to Mexico. I’ll report you to immigration. You’ll never come back.’” (CJ’s Seafood did not respond to various reporters’ requests for comment last year, including mine. Efforts to reach the company for comment last week were unsuccessful.)

Guest workers aren’t the only immigrants whose bosses can wield their immigration status as a weapon. Too often, employers who’ve happily gotten rich off the labor of undocumented workers develop a sudden interest in those employees’ legal status once they start speaking up. A few days after three-year subcontracted food court employee Antonio Vanegas joined a strike in the government-owned Ronald Reagan Building, he was detained by Homeland Security and placed in a four-day immigration detention. The same day that workers at Milwaukee’s Palermo’s Pizza plant presented their boss with a union petition, management presented workers with letters stating they’d need to verify their legal status. Ten days later, Palermo’s fired 75 striking workers, arguing it was just following immigration law.

For every immigrant worker that risks retaliation, there are others that choose not to, chastened by a well-founded fear that their status will be used against them. (There’s a risk of retaliationanytime U.S. workers try to exercise workplace rights, but the threat for undocumented or guest workers is particularly acute.) That vulnerability holds back the efforts of unions and other labor groups to organize and transform low-wage industries — or even to ensure employers pay minimum wage to their workers, immigrant or otherwise. It helps explain why the center of gravity in organized labor — long the site of struggles between exclusion and equality — has swung decisively in recent decades to support immigration reform. Rather than pushing to deport immigrants, unions (including my former employer) are mostly trying to organize them. The less leverage employers have over immigrants’ legal status, the more leverage immigrant and U.S.-born workers will have to wrest dollars and dignity from their bosses together.

The Senate’s immigration bill takes a few key steps to make that easier, each of which activists expect will face strong opposition in the House. The bill features a path to citizenship that organizers expect will help disarm deportation-happy bosses by allowing millions of workers to obtain secure and equal legal status. It creates a new “W visa” program with more labor protections that advocates hope will become a template to someday replace existing guest worker programs like the H-2B. And the bill includes several anti-retaliation measures designed to stem abuse: from more chances for workers who exposed crimes to get special visas or stays of deportation, to language overturning a Supreme Court decision that prevented illegally fired undocumented workers from getting back pay.

Those pro-labor provisions already come with painful sacrifices. Even before the Senate pegged it to a militarized “border surge,” that path to citizenship was long and littered with obstacles. Those include a requirement of near-continuous employment that advocates warn could still leave immigrants especially vulnerable to retaliatory firings, and an exclusion based on criminal convictions that — combined with a mandate that employers use the controversial status-checking software e-Verify — could leave some workers more vulnerable than ever. And advocates note that the H-2B program could at least temporarily more than double in size during the bill, though it would be subject to some modest new protections.

Facing a hostile House, labor officials are framing those Senate compromises as a floor for labor language in immigration reform: “There can be no further erosion of rights, and we’re protecting that as it goes to the House,” says Ana Avendaño, the AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration and Community Action. But the Senate provisions are more likely to be treated as a ceiling. “We’ll lose all of the worker protection stuff in the House,” said a different advocate working on immigration for a union, and then “hope that reason prevails in the conference” committee tasked with reconciling Senate and House legislation.

The CJ’s Seafood story has an unusual ending: After their boss’s implied threat to their families, Diaz and seven of her co-workers mounted an against-the-odds strike. “We felt,” Diaz told me, “that if we didn’t do something to stop this, sometime in the future, it would be our children going through it.” You won’t find much such courage in Congress.

Protect rights of immigrant whistle-blowers

Saket Soni
June 25, 2013

Last week, federal immigration authorities seized more than a dozen 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia. Authorities charged that the stores’ franchisees “brutally exploited” more than 50 undocumented immigrant workers. The workers allegedly worked up to 100 hours a week, for as little as $3 an hour. They were forced to live in housing the employers owned and controlled, authorities said.

For many, it was a shock. An iconic American corporation was allegedly profiting from what the U.S. attorney’s office called a “modern-day plantation system.” Prosecutors are seeking $30 million in forfeiture, not only from the franchisees but also from the 7-Eleven parent corporation.

The real shock should be how common cases such as this have become.

Millions of immigrant workers are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, because employers can threaten them with retaliatory firing and deportation to silence complaints. In this context, the allegations that 7-Eleven ran a “plantation system” for 13 years sounds more plausible.

Consider: In March, workers from several nations filed federal complaints describing similar exploitation at McDonald’s restaurants in central Pennsylvania. The workers, students who had come to the United States with J-1 visas to work under the Summer Work Travel Program, reported brutal conditions, wage theft and shifts of up to 25 hours straight with no overtime pay. They said they were made to live in substandard housing owned by the employer, and faced threats of deportation when they raised concerns.

In June 2012, another group of immigrant workers alleged forced labor at a Louisiana Walmart supplier called C.J.’s Seafood. Supervisors threatened to beat them with a shovel, they said, to make them work faster, and when they spoke up, the boss allegedly threatened violence against their families.

Recent debate on the Senate floor also recalled an emblematic 2011 case of exploitation at a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Pennsylvania. There, immigrant guest workers said in a federal complaint that they earned subminimum wage take-home pay and faced constant threats of firing and deportation.

Among the many similarities in these cases, most striking is that all four came to light because immigrant workers defied threats and blew the whistle. When they did, they stood up not just for themselves, but for U.S. workers as well.

In a recent national survey of 1,000 registered voters by CAMBIO (a coalition of pro-reform groups of which the National Guestworker Alliance is a member), 75% agreed that “if employers are allowed to get away with mistreating immigrant workers, it ends up lowering wages and hurting conditions for American workers as well.” Eighty percent agreed that “immigrant workers who blow the whistle on abusive employers are helping defend workplace standards, and should have the opportunity to stay in the U.S. to work toward citizenship.”

Right now, protections for immigrant whistle-blowers are weak. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely ignores a memorandum from its director, John Morton, allowing it not to pursue deportation against whistle-blowers. In New Orleans, 26 workers who helped expose exploitation in the Louisiana home elevation industry were arrested in an immigration raid in August 2011, and most are still fighting their deportations today. Across the country, workers who have been the victims of exploitation — and have come forward to stop it — are treated as disposable.

Immigration reform needs to change that. First, as the bill moves through the Senate and on to the House of Representatives, it needs to include provisions that deliver dignity at work to the more than 7 million immigrant workers in the United States — and that keep the floor from falling for the 150 million U.S.-born workers who work alongside them. A bill called the POWER Act would provide the key protections to both. It needs to be included in the immigration reform bill.

Second, immigration reform must deliver equal rights to all immigrant workers, so that unscrupulous employers can’t pick and choose the most exploitable workers to undercut the competition. All immigrant workers who come to the United States through future guest-worker programs must have strong whistle-blower protections and the right to change employers as freely as any worker on American shores.

Raising the floor for the immigrant workers at the bottom of the U.S. economy means building a stronger, more secure economy for all workers. That’s why protecting immigrant workers doesn’t just matter for immigrants. It matters for every worker in America.

Meet Martha.

Last year she was a guestworker exposing forced labor in a Louisiana labor camp.

This year she’s on the frontlines of immigration reform.

Watch Martha’s video to see how Walmart’s low prices trapped her in forced labor—and how she blew the whistle on forced labor on the Walmart supply chain.

When whistleblowers like Martha come forward, they protect the wages and conditions of the 24 million U.S. workers alongside them in the same industries.

Stand with Martha: sign the petition to tell Congress that immigration reform must protect immigrant whistleblowers—for the sake of ALL America’s workers.

When guestworkers like Martha Uvalle blow the whistle on abuse, they protect the wages and conditions of the 24 million U.S. workers alongside them. Tell Congress that immigration reform should protect guestworker whistleblowers — for the sake of ALL America’s workers!


WASHINGTON – After a building collapse in Bangladesh that has reportedly killed more than 200 garment workers this week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the senior Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, called on Wal-Mart, which subcontracted with this facility, to commit to improving conditions.

“The recent actions taken by the company on a voluntary basis are not working to alleviate the deadly negligence that continues to cause so much human loss and suffering. What is needed are the binding commitments that are included in [the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety] Agreement,” wrote Miller. “As one of the nation’s wealthiest and largest employers, Wal-Mart has a unique role and responsibility to do the right thing and set the best standard not just here in America, but in the rest of the world. The situation in Bangladesh remains unacceptable for any employer much less our nation’s largest.”

The Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement is a non-governmental organization proposal that would help to prevent these types of disasters from occurring. The agreement would establish a system of independent factory inspections and comprehensive preventive measures that includes consulting with workers whose lives are in danger as a result of sweatshop conditions employed by suppliers.

Earlier this month, Rep. Miller met with human rights leaders and a survivor of the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 workers in November 2012, and called on U.S. brands to commit resources to prevent fires.

Read the letter:

April 25, 2013

Mr. Michael Duke
Chief Executive Officer
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, AR 72716-8611

Dear Mr. Duke:

Yet another tragedy occurred in Bangladesh yesterday, where an eight-story building that housed five garment factories collapsed, killing at least 194 people, injuring more than 1,000 others, and leaving an unknown number of people trapped in the rubble. According to media reports, factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected. Of greater concern is that these deaths were apparently forewarned and preventable, because a bank in the same building evacuated its staff. According to a Bloomberg News report on Wednesday, a BRAC Bank spokesman said the bank had “evacuated our staff yesterday… Other commercial units did not do the same.”

Only five months ago, a devastating fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory killed at least 112 garment workers. In both cases, Wal-Mart was linked to the factories as a direct buyer or through intermediaries.

In view of this, I would ask Wal-Mart to move immediately to join efforts to provide appropriate relief and compensation; support a thorough investigation into the causes of the building collapse; and, most importantly to prevent future tragedies, join the binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement that has been proposed by non-governmental organizations worldwide and lead the corporate retail world in preventing these disasters from happening. The Agreement would establish a system of independent factory inspections and comprehensive preventive measures that include consulting with workers whose lives are in jeopardy as a result of sweatshop conditions employed by your suppliers.

The recent actions taken by the company on a voluntary basis are not working to alleviate the deadly negligence that continues to cause so much human loss and suffering. What are needed are the binding commitments that are included in this Agreement.

As one of the nation’s wealthiest and largest employers, Wal-Mart has a unique role and responsibility to do the right thing and set the best standard not just here in America, but in the rest of the world. The situation in Bangladesh remains unacceptable for any employer much less our nation’s largest.

I would urge you to take a personal interest and active role in resolving this issue as soon as possible. Again, I urge you to join the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement and ensure that garment workers do not continue to tragically lose their lives.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to your response.


Senior Democratic Member

Bangladesh Tragedy Shows Walmart Failures on Worker Safety

Supply chain workers renew call on Walmart to adopt worker safety agreement

April 24, 2013—Today’s horrific garment factory collapse in Bangladesh shows the need for Walmart to commit to real safety and workers’ rights standards for all the workers who produce and deliver the commodities sold on Walmart’s shelves everyday, said US Walmart supply chain workers Wednesday. Workers from National Guestworker Alliance, Warehouse Workers United, New Labor, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Jobs with Justice who recently meet in Los Angeles and demanded Walmart commit to protecting workers on their supply chain in a set of core principles denounced the negligence that contributed to today’s tragedy.

The collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, reportedly killed at least 80 people and injured over 800. It came just six months after a deadly fire at another Bangladesh garment factory that supplied to Walmart killed 112 people. Walmart has played a led role in blocking stricter safety standards at Bangladesh garment factories, citing high costs, according to the New York Times.

Kalpona Akter, a former garment worker who directs the Bangladesh Center for Worker Safety and attended the meeting in Los Angles earlier this month, said:

“These tragedies can be prevented by multinational corporations like Walmart and the Gap that operate in Bangladesh. Because of these companies’ negligence and willful ignorance, garment workers are in danger every day because of the unsafe working conditions.”

The US Walmart supply chain workers renewed their call for the megaretailer to agree to supplier standards that enforceable, credible, and include workers’ voice to ensure safety and dignity across Walmart’s global supply chain.


Stephen Boykewich,  718-791-9162
Elizabeth Brennan,  213-999-2164

‘I Jumped to Save My Body’: Walmart Slammed Over Nicaragua Stabbings and Bangladesh Fire
The Nation

Josh Eidelson
April 18, 2013

Survivors of a factory fire in Bangladesh and an armed assault in Nicaragua both called this week for Walmart to crack down on abuses in its global supply chain. Former garment worker Sumi Abedin, who jumped from a third story window to escape Bangladesh’s Tazreen factory, will lead a mock “funeral procession” tonight to the New York City home of Walmart board member Michele Burns. Tomorrow, students and other supporters will converge on the New York and Los Angeles offices of SAE-A, a Walmart contractor accused of fomenting violence against union activists.

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment on either case.

Stabbings and Beatings in Nicaragua

“We’re making their clothes, the clothes they’re going to sell,” fired Nicaraguan factory worker Darwing Lopez-Alanez told The Nation in Spanish. “And so they have a role in what goes on inside there.” Lopez-Alanez, the secretary-general of a new union seeking recognition, was one of fifteen union leaders fired at two factories owned and operated by SAE-A, an apparel company based in South Korea.

In a March memo to Walmart and other US brands, the labor monitoring group Workers Rights Consortiumwrote that its preliminary investigation “finds that SAE-A brutally violated these workers’ associational rights by directing and paying a mob of more than 300 other workers—while on paid company time—to attack these employees with scissors and metal pipes.”

Lopez-Alanez said that he began organizing with his co-workers in hopes of confronting excessive workload and mistreatment by management. “I had seen it all,” he told The Nation. Because the recognized union in the factory always sided with management, said Lopez-Alanez, he and a group of co-workers began trying to organize a new one.

On March 4, the conflict turned violent. Lopez-Alanez and other fired workers showed up with leaflets outside his factory at 5 AM. “We planned a peaceful protest,” he said. An hour later, as some workers arrived at the factory, Lopez-Alanez and his comrades struck up conversations with them, “telling them that we needed to defend our rights, talking about the mistreatment at the factory that we were working in, the terrible conditions, that everything only seemed OK when a representative from one of the brands came.”

While the fired workers protested outside, witnesses later told the WRC, SAE-A management met with workers inside the factory and promised them bonuses and free food if they would break up the rally. Lopez-Alanez said he heard from co-workers that they were also warned that if the union campaign took hold, all of them could lose their jobs. According to Lopez-Alanez, as hundreds of those workers came back out of the factory, one of the fired workers reiterated over a bullhorn that the protest was peaceful. But “then this group came towards us and started beating us. The private security told us to stop making noise.” “I was scared,” said Lopez-Alanez, who came to the rally with his wife, a fellow fired union activist. “They fractured my leg with a pipe.”

With support from Warehouse Workers United, a project of the US union federation Change to Win, SAE-A union activists are demanding Walmart get the contractor to reinstate the fired workers and bargain with the new unions. In a Wednesday e-mail, WRC Executive Director Scott Nova told The Nation that while Walmart had not addressed his group’s letter, SAE-A “has responded and has provided information we have requested as part of our ongoing investigation.” Nova added, “We hope they will be willing to take action to address the problems at the factory.”

“What they want is to intimidate us so we don’t keep up the struggle,” said Lopez-Alanez. “A union that fought for the rights of the workers, they’re worried that would affect their profits.”

The SAE-A showdown comes as Walmart faces increased scrutiny over conditions in its domestic and international supply chains. In a November interview with The Nation, following the deaths of 112 workers in a Bangladesh factory, the WRC’s Nova accused Walmart of “setting up these contracting regimes in which you can get individual, poorly regulated businesses to compete viciously with each other for your business” by forcing down labor costs. “And then you let them go out and find new and creative ways to fuck workers and break the law,” he said. “And then you distance yourself from it, and say, ‘Oh this is so terrible…if you get caught. And of course in most cases, you don’t get caught.”

Fire Safety Deal Rebuffed in Bangladesh

On Monday, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that, unlike some brands, Walmart and Sears “didn’t respond to an invitation” to attend a meeting regarding compensation for the victims of November’s deadly factory fire at Bangladesh’s Tazreen Factory. Interviewed yesterday (in Bangla), Tazreen survivor Sumi Abedin charged that by blowing off the meeting, “Walmart has insulted all those workers who died in this fire and who were injured, as well as survivors…. By not participating in this meeting, ultimately they are supporting their death.”

As The Nation has reported, the factory was producing Walmart apparel at the time of the fire; the company has blamed this on a rogue supplier. In December, Bloomberg and The New York Times reported that Walmart shot down a plan proposed in 2011 under which major brands would have paid for the costs of safety improvements in the Bangladesh factories producing their products. In a statement e-mailed toBloomberg, a Walmart spokesperson said that the company “has been advocating for improved fire safety with the Bangladeshi government, with industry groups and with suppliers.”

Abedin told The Nation that prior to the November fire, “many times we complained to the factory manager and said that it was unsafe. But he would always reply, ‘There will be no accident. If there is an accident, I will manage it.’”

When the November fire broke out, Abedin was working on the factory’s fourth floor. When a co-worker smelled smoke and she and some co-workers first tried to escape, said Abedin, managers “shouted at us, ‘There is no fire. This is a lie. Go and work.’” Five minutes later, when the smell had grown stronger, Abedin ran to a door but it was padlocked shut. “I was crying and running around the floors,” she said. Abedin took a different stairway down to the second floor, but found fire blocking any exit there. “Meanwhile,” she said, “power had gone out, and it was dark.” Following co-workers who were lighting the way with a cell phone, she made it back up to the third floor. “I saw many workers fallen in the production area,” she said, “and they had suffocated, and I was crying.”

A few workers forced open a window, and Abedin jumped out. “I jumped not to save my life,” she said. “I jumped to save my body. Because if I would be in the factory, my parents would not be able to get my body. I would be burned to death. So I jumped so at least they could find my body outside.”

Abedin said she woke up outside with a broken leg and a broken arm. When she turned to help the co-worker who had jumped just before her, he was dead. A doctor has told her not to return to work for a year. “I lost many of my co-workers and friends,” Abedin told The Nation.

“Walmart has a lot of responsibility,” Abedin said. “They knew about these working conditions.” Kalpona Akter, a leader of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity who’s traveling the United States with Abedin, said that Bangladesh is attractive to Walmart in part because of the brutal suppression of union organizing efforts in the country. “Whenever workers try to organize themselves, they’ve been threatened, beaten and falsely [criminally] charged, and Walmart knew that,” Akter told The Nation. “Me and my colleagues have been charged for nine different criminal charges, and four of them have been filed by Walmart-sourcing factories. And Walmart knew that.”

The International Labor Rights Forum, one of the groups coordinating Abedin and Akter’s US visit, has joined BCWS in calling for Walmart to join two corporations which have signed a fire safety memorandum of understanding that would require them—once at least four companies have signed on—to pay for the costs of safety improvements in the Bangladesh factories where their apparel is made, and to support protections for union organizing there. Bloomberg reported that Walmart will donate $1.6 million “to establish an entity called the Environment, Health and Safety Academy in Bangladesh.” ILRF Executive Director Judy Gearhart told The Nation that Walmart’s donation isn’t good enough: “They want to dedicate $1.6 million to training as opposed to really accepting full accountability for the workers in their supply chain.”

Organizing Across the Supply Chain

Abedin and Akter’s trip included a stop in Walmart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, hometown last week, where they unsuccessfully sought meetings with Walmart executives at company headquarters and at the home of one of its vice presidents. The Bangladeshi activists have also been targeting other brands that have sourced goods from factories where workers died in fires; yesterday they were escorted out of a Gap location in New York’s Herald Square.

Prior to the mock funeral procession, this evening Abedin will join a panel of Walmart supply chain workers, including an employee of a New Jersey pharmaceutical supplier. Last week, she gathered in Southern California with worker activists from Walmart US distribution centers and the now-suspended seafood supplier CJ’s Seafood. At that meeting, workers released a set of “Core Principles” for Walmart supply chain reform, including a fire safety agreement in Bangladesh; stronger immigrant organizing rights protections in the US; and warehouse standards “that are enforceable, credible, and involve workers in a meaningful way.”

Ana Rosa Diaz, one of eight immigrant guest workers to strike last year over alleged forced labor at CJ’s, told The Nation in Spanish that she saw unity throughout the supply chain at a key step in challenging the Walmart business model. “Hopefully,” said Diaz, “other workers who work in these conditions feel motivated that they are not alone, and that they should come forward and be part of this effort.”

BCWS’ Akter said that meeting other Walmart supply chain workers had been eye-opening. “I knew that Walmart doesn’t care” about the rights of “workers that they’re sourcing from,” she told The Nation. But “I thought the workers that work in their stores, they’d be treating well, maybe paying well. But that really surprised me, to know that they are just on the bottom…. They are the same everywhere.”

Global Supply Chain Workers Pressure Walmart to Get Serious About Labor Conditions

Workers Release Core Principles to Ensure Safe and Legal Working Conditions

LOS ANGELES, April 9, 2013—In an unprecedented meeting, workers from Walmart’s global supply chain gathered in Los Angeles Tuesday to release core principles (PDF) that would ensure basic labor standards in the megaretailer’s global supply chain.

The meeting included two Bangladeshi garment workers, one of whom, 24-year-old Sumi Abedin, jumped out of a burning factory that produced clothes for Walmart to save her life. The November 2012 fire killed 112 people. The New York Times reported that Walmart played the lead role in blocking increased fire safety protections at Bangladeshi garment factories the year before, claiming the cost would be too high.

Over the course of 2012, guestworkers, factory workers and warehouse workers exposed deadly, unsafe and illegal conditions inside Walmart’s contracted facilities. In response to pressure from workers’ groups, Walmart has accepted responsibility for conditions on its supply chain, but the company’s own solutions fail to uphold its basic standards and the law.

“Walmart must work with workers in each facet of its supply chain to ensure dignity and safety,” said Mike Compton, a warehouse worker from Illinois who traveled to Los Angeles for the meeting. “There is nowhere for workers to go right now – a complaint to Walmart goes into a black hole. There are so many workers laboring to make Walmart successful, the company has to engage with us to make sure working conditions are safe and legal.”

Workers across the Walmart supply chain agreed that standards must be enforceable and credible, and that workers must have a voice in the process.

“We faced brutal conditions, including threats of deportation and violence against us and our families if we complained,” said Ana Rosa Diaz, a former guestworker at Walmart supplier C.J’s Seafood in Louisiana and a member of the National Guestworker Alliance. “When we went on strike, Walmart tried to cover up the abuse. Only after hundreds of thousands of people stood up to support us, Walmart ended its contract with C.J.’s.”

Workers modeled today’s international convening and the release of their core principles as a response to Walmart’s own “Standards for Suppliers.”

“What workers have shown is that Walmart’s standards are nothing more than a sheet of paper,” said Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United. “Today workers have put forward a solution that would lift working standards globally and create enforceable, credible standards that are centered around workers.”

Tuesday’s meeting included workers from the National Guestworker Alliance, Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, Warehouse Workers United, New Labor, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Jobs with Justice, along with professors, community leaders and others.


Contacts: Elizabeth Brennan at 213-999-2164
Stephen Boykewich,, 718-791-9162


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