At First-Ever Meeting, Workers Release Core Principles to Ensure Safe and Legal Working Conditions
By Warehouse Workers United
In an unprecedented meeting, workers from Walmart’s global supply chain gathered Tuesday to release core principles that would ensure basic labor standards in the megaretailer’s global supply chain.
The meeting was timed to correspond with the arrival of two Bangladeshi garment workers to Southern California. One, 19-year-old Sumi Abedin, jumped out of a burning factory that produced clothes for Walmart. 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 in 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 in today’s international convening are responding to Walmart’s “Standards for Suppliers” with their own set of core principles.
“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.
Workers, regardless of geography, will stay in contact over social media channels and workers on the east coast will hold a similar convening April 18.