Workers Continue to Challenge Walmart, from Supplier to Store
Following Walmart’s ongoing refusal to meet with the guestworkers to negotiate protections for guestworkers on its supply chain—in spite of 142,000 Change.org petitions asking them to do so—the workers held a 24-hour fast on June 30 outside the penthouse home of Walmart board member Michelle Burns in New York City.
Members of the National Guestworkers Alliance went on strike from Walmart supplier C.J.’s Seafood on June 4, reporting to the federal Department of Labor (DOL) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that they had been subjected to forced labor, shifts of up to 24 hours with no overtime pay, constant surveillance, and threats of violence against themselves and their families in retaliation for seeking basic labor and civil rights. Their reports of forced labor were confirmed by an independent investigation by the Worker Rights Consortium, which concluded: “The conditions at this Walmart supplier are among the worst we have encountered, rivaling any sweatshop in China or Bangladesh.”
In what has become a common attempt to push their problems off on others to deal with, a third-party representative of Walmart—Accordia Global—called to interview the workers. Though Walmart closed its original investigation on the same day it opened it earlier in June, the firm was investigating workers’ claims. Workers spoke with the Accordia Global, but remained clear that they wanted to meet directly with Walmart. Days later, Walmart board member Michelle Burns’ reached out through another individual the night before the fast and offered to meet with third party individuals—not the workers—in order to call off the fast.
The workers politely declined, and proceeded with the fast.
Jobs with Justice leaders and activists flooded the guestworkers with solidarity statements and many also took up the fast in their hometowns. News of the fast spread from the Guardian in London to the New York Times and beyond.
Walmart says they temporarily suspended business with CJ’s Seafood—though this was done after the crawfish season ended.
The workers fasted on June 30th in coordination with actions around the country calling on Walmart to meet with workers and address their concerns on their 50th birthday. Nearly 10,000 marched in Los Angeles, protesting in part the expansion of Walmart into the city’s Chinatown. On the evening before the fast, seafood workers landed in New York and met with OUR Walmart associates gathered in Los Angeles in a webcast—both expressing solidarity and unity moving forward.
The National Guestworker Alliance has since uncovered preliminary evidence of forced labor conditions across a dozen workplaces on Walmart’s U.S. supply chain. The preliminary evidence included 482 federal citations for safety, health, and wage and hour violations, as well as dozens of federal lawsuits alleging significant violations of civil and labor rights law at U.S. Walmart suppliers that employ guestworkers.
In response, Jobs with Justice and the National Guestworkers Alliance formed a national investigative commission of civil and labor rights experts to conduct a full investigation into Walmart’s failure to enforce its own Standards for Suppliers, which forbid forced labor, among its U.S. suppliers.
The commission includes several members from Jobs with Justice’s National Workers Rights Board. The full list is below:
- Barbara Ehrenreich – Labor expert, author of Nickeled and Dimed, Bait and Switch
- Terry O’Neill – President, National Organization for Women
- Patrick O’Neill – Executive Vice-President, United Food and Commercial Workers
- William Quigley – Professor of Law, Loyola University
- Bill Fletcher, Jr. – Labor writer, author of Solidarity Divided
- Scott Nova – Director, Worker Rights Consortium
- Alejandra Ancheita – Director, Proyecto de Derechos Sociales, Políticos y Sindicales (ProDESC)
- Helene O'Brien – President, SEIU 21 Louisiana
- Saket Soni – Director, National Guestworker Alliance
Probes by the DOL’s Wage and Hour division, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and EEOC are ongoing. An additional report has come out from the National Employment Law Project—outlining other impacts Walmart has on various supply chains. DEMOS released a report on July 2nd outlining Walmart’s impact on declining security of manufacturing jobs. And Harpers Magazine published a story on Walmart’s impact on small farmers in its July edition.
Moving forward, the commission will expose these and other abuses along Walmart’s supply chain in the United States and abroad—pushing Walmart to come to the table to address workers’ concerns.