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Walmart Asia Accused of Garment Worker Abuse

A new report published by the Jobs with Justice Education Fund is accusing Walmart Asia of abusing its garment workers in India, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The report documented several problems regarding the denial of freedom of association or the right to organize, job insecurity, wage theft, forced labor, manipulation to avoid following labor laws, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and physical environment.

“This report provides a detailed look at what happens when a major corporate actor shirks its responsibility to maintain basic labor and human rights standards. As the world’s largest retailer, and thus as the trendsetter for the production of all manner of products, Walmart has an obligation to ensure dignity for the people who create its products,” Jobs with Justice noted.

In India, research showed instances of incorrect payment of wages based on skill level, denial of legally stipulated overtime rates and late payment.

Eighty-six percent of the Cambodian workers that participated in the survey shared that their typical workday consisted of 10-14 hours and that they did not have the option to leave the factory before beginning overtime hours. They also reported being forced to work on Sundays and national holidays.

Mass fainting has become an epidemic in the Cambodian garment industry, and some owe the fact, at least in part, to the forced labor practices.

Workers interviewed at factories in Cambodia, where 90 percent of garments workers are women, reported that human resources and administrative personnel often sexually harassed female employees and noted that there are no mechanisms in place to submit complaints.

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The report also noted that women in India feel they must endure similar abuse in order to meet production targets or to receive benefits. At the factories included in the study, becoming pregnant jeopardizes employment.

When it comes to the physical environment of the facilities, workers in Cambodia were concerned about their access to clean drinking water and sanitary restrooms. In India, restrooms were often described as filthy, in unusable condition or absent altogether.

The end of the report listed some recommendations for Walmart going further, including having local CSR-compliance representatives in supplier countries investigating workers’ claims of rights violations by suppliers and conducting open investigations into the problems mentioned in the report and taking actions to correct them.

It also recommends that Walmart begin dialogue with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance regarding closing the gap between the countries’ minimum wage and actual living wage in Asia’s garment industry.

Labor-rights activists and trade union leaders in Asia agree that Walmart is “notorious for being the most difficult large brand to communicate with.”

The report said, “Whereas other large brands, even those who have received negative attention in recent years, have representatives on the ground in Asian countries, Walmart remains one of the few large brands that do not provide local representation for compliance issues.”

Jobs with Justice has partnered with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance of trade unions and activists to investigate the matter further.