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Is Walmart the World’s Worst Corporation?

Domestically and abroad, Walmart wreaks havoc on the lives of its employees and supply-chain workers.

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That was the question posed last week by Public Eye, a counter-event to the World Economic Forum, as it sought a worthy winner for its “lifetime achievement award.” For sure, Walmart – which has already won a Public Eye award in 2005 for labor rights violations in its global supply chain – faces stiff competition in the online poll. Among the other outstanding nominees for the world’s worst corporation are Goldman Sachs, Chevron, Dow Chemical and Union Carbide.

Walmart’s impeccable credentials for the world’s worst corporation were covered last week by Truthout. The company denies a living wage, full-time work, predictable scheduling and employment security to its global workforce of 2.2 million people. It drives down wages and labor standards in its enormous global supply chain, most notably in the Bangladesh textile industry and the Thai shrimp industry. Walmart’s contempt for the core labor and human rights of its global workforce and supply-chain workers is arguably second to none.

There’s also no shortage of worthy nominees for the worst corporation in the United States: Amazon, a company whose disdain for labor rights is legendary, has similar employment practices to Walmart, minus the bricks and mortar; and Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service whose vice president apparently believes in smearing journalists, has done more than most corporations to promote precarious employment.

But even these enemies of decent work cannot compete with Walmart’s appalling record:

  • The company’s low-wage business model means that most of its 1.3 million domestic employees earn less than $25,000 per year. According to The Wall Street Journal, Walmart cashiers earn an average of just $8.48 per hour.
  • US taxpayers subsidize the nation’s largest private-sector employer to the tune of $6.2 billion per year because it pays workers so little that many of them rely on food stamps, Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded programs. The public subsidy for an individual Walmart store may be as much as $1 million per year in higher usage of public-assistance programs by Walmart employees and their dependents.
  • Walmart workers suffer not only from poverty wages, but also from a lack of full-time work and erratic schedules that make it virtually impossible for them to gain second jobs or go back to school.
  • “Associates” who speak out against low wages and poor working conditions face the constant threat of management retaliation. In an earlier round of workplace actions, Walmart terminated 19 workers and retaliated against 40 others for participating in legally protected strike actions and protests.
  • Walmart has engaged in the economic intimidation of lawmakers who oppose its low-road practices. In September 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, DC, vetoed a bill that would have provided a living wage for employees at big-box retailers after Walmart threatened to leave the District of Columbia.
  • Walmart’s abuses extend to its domestic supply chain. One Walmart supplier, C.J.’s Seafood of Louisiana, committed “grave and systematic” violations of labor rights, including forcing its H-2B migrant workers from Mexico to work 24-hour shifts and paying them 40 percent below the legal minimum wage.
  • Poor conditions are endemic among Walmart’s domestic logistics chain workers: Temporary workers at several warehouses under contract with Walmart have repeatedly gone out on strike in the past two years because they work in unsafe and arduous conditions under the threat of termination if they speak out.
  • Walmart has contributed to the corruption of the nation’s politics. In September 2014, Common Cause and Public Citizen accused the company of violating federal campaign finance laws by asking employees to donate to its political action committee in exchange for matching donations to a company charity.

But time may be finally running out for Walmart’s business model based on poverty wages, poor conditions and worker intimidation. The company’s workers and their supporters will engage in strikes and protests on Black Friday at 1,600 retail stores across the country, including at stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, DC. And criticism is spreading. At a congressional briefing last week, Rep. George Miller (D-California) excoriated Walmart’s employment practices for “singlehandedly wreaking havoc on American families . . . making it impossible for hundreds of thousands of workers to have a shot at the American Dream.”

Walmart easily deserves the title of the country’s worst corporation, and by wreaking havoc on the lives of its employees and supply-chain workers worldwide, it must also be a strong contender for Public Eye’s award for the worst corporation in the world.

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