Because of Wal-Mart's sheer size, it has been a central focus for ILRF's work since 2004. The company has grown to become the world's largest retailer and corporation, with over 60,000 suppliers, yet it has not developed a policy of social responsibility to match its economic power. Instead, it has released vague and misleading reports on its labor conditions, while its constant price pressure has continued to force suppliers to disobey local regulations.
Wal-Mart has a long history of high-profile labor rights violations, starting with the Kathie Lee Gifford exposé. ILRF has learned from trade unions and allied labor NGOs in countries like China, Bangladesh, and Swaziland that they have seen major labor rights violations in Wal-Mart factories. Though Wal-Mart now releases a yearly "ethical sourcing" evaluation, it refuses to specify how it measures improvements and downplays persistent problems like work hours. Its labor inspections are still overwhelmingly pre-announced and, partially as a result, ineffective.
In late 2005, the ILRF on behalf of factory workers from Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, and Swaziland filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores charging that Wal-Mart knowingly and systematically violated its Standards for Suppliers. More information on the litigation is available via International Rights Advocates. On July 10, 2009, this lawsuit was dismissed by the 9th Circuit court in California.
In February 2009, the Clean Clothes Campaign launched the Better Bargain campaign targeted at reforming the purchasing policies of Walmart, Carrefour, Tesco, Lidl, and Aldi. The violations at Walmart factories are symptoms of a larger problem caused by unsustainable buying practices.
ILRF identified the following labor violations at Wal-Mart factories:
In violation of the law, workers are routinely forced to work overtime, often 16-18 hours a day.
MINIMUM WAGE VIOLATIONS
Many workers are paid up to 30 percent below their country's legal minimum wage.
MATERNITY LEAVE VIOLATIONS
Most female workers are denied their legal maternity leave and their benefits.
OVERTIME PAY VIOLATIONS
Workers are rarely, if ever, paid overtime. Although they often work more than twice the legal number of hours in a week, they are not paid more than their regular wages.
HEALTH CARE VIOLATIONS
The health clinics that many countries require their factories to have often do not exist and workers are NOT provided with basic safety equipment, such as dust masks.
RIGHT TO FORM INDEPENDENT UNIONS DENIED
More than 80 percent of Wal-Mart's merchandise suppliers are in China, where workers do not have the right of freedom of association.
BATHROOM BREAKS VIOLATIONS
In many of the factories, workers need a ticket and permission to use the bathroom. Their breaks are timed.
ILRF has demanded that Wal-Mart reform its purchasing policies that have such a negative impact on workers by reforming its pricing policy, integrate independent grassroots monitoring into its monitoring program, and prioritize sourcing from unionized facilities.
Wal-Mart factory workers in Philippines on strike
Texport factory in China
Swaziland Export Processing Zone sign outside of factory
Factory workers in Swaziland
Wal-Mart factory in Swaziland