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Walmart fires the messenger

Cowboy hat By Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer - Thu., 9/1/05
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Wal-Mart has been running splashy ads asserting that, far from being a globlal sweatshop profiteer, it's a model employer that constantly monitors its worldwide network of factories to assure humane treatment of workers. Before swallowing that, you might want to hear from one of Wal-Mart's own factory monitors.

Jim Bill Lynn was recruited by the retailer, and he readily bought into what's called "the Wal-Mart culture," which, on paper, stresses honesty and openness. A hard and loyal worker, Lynn soon was assigned to monitor the labor conditions in all of the factories of Wal-Mart's direct suppliers in Latin America. Jim Bill was shocked at what he found in factory after factory: Padlocked fire exits, heat so extreme that workers passed out, unsafe drinking water, mandatory overtime, shorting workers on wages...and many more blatant abuses. More shocking to him, when he alerted Wal-Mart higher-ups...nothing happened.

Finally, his chance to get action from the top came when Mike Duke, now Wal- Mart's number two honcho, visited the Latin American office. Jim Bill was called in and asked directly by Duke what grade he'd give the company for its labor conditions there. "A C-minus or Dplus," Lynn bluntly told the roomful of startled executives. But, he added, all the violations could be corrected quickly with the support of headquarters.

Jim Bill did get quick action this time: He was fired shortly after Duke left. Wal-Mart claims the firing was because he was having an affair with a female colleague. Lynn flatly denies this, and so does the womaneven though Wal- Mart managers took her into an interrogation room and grilled her, banging their fists on the table and demanding that she say what they wanted to hear. Trying to reverse his unjust firing, Jim Bill finally got a brief meeting with Duke, who told him: "You didn't stick with our culture." For more information and action tips, contact the National Labor Committee: 212-242-3002.

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Filed Under: Corporate greed