Foreign Workers Sue Wal-Mart for Sweatshop Conditions

September 14, 2005 ( - Workers of toy and clothing factories in six countries have sued Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., claiming the retailer overlooked sweatshop conditions.

According to Reuters, the case filed in Los Angeles lists 15 plaintiffs from Bangladesh, Swaziland, Indonesia, China and Nicaragua. The employees claim they were paid below minimum wage and not paid for forced overtime. Some claim they endured beatings, including a pregnant seamstress who said she was kicked in the stomach by her supervisor after pausing and a woman who said she was slapped in the face with pants when she did not meet her quota of 120 pair per hour.

The lawsuit also lists four California plaintiffs, including two unionized workers at Kroger Co. unit Ralph’s and Safeway Ind. grocery stores, who claim Wal-Mart’s entry into Southern California forced their employers to reduce pay and benefits, Reuters says.

In addition, the workers allege poor working conditions and reprisal firings for labor union activity, according to Reuters. Union Network International has recently called for companies who manage private pension plans to sell their shares of Wal-Mart stock in protest saying the company violates child labor and discrimination laws, offers poor wages and benefits, and does not give most of its employees the freedom to unionize (See Labor Leaders Call for Wal-Mart Stock Sale ).

According to Reuters, the lawsuit said,“Investigation after investigation of Wal-Mart’s operations and suppliers reveal that Wal-Mart is an unrepentant and recidivist violator of human rights,” and that it “knew or reasonably should have known that its suppliers would violate” worker’s rights, but continues to do business with those factories.

Wal-Mart has seen other bad press including dismissal of its former vice-chairman and a former vice-president for a scheme to funnel company money for personal use by the vice-chairman (See Wal-Mart Explains Firing of Former Vice President ) and a class-action lawsuit claiming the company discriminated against women in pay and promotions (See Wal-Mart Says Case Is Too Big To Defend ). That lawsuit represents 1.6 million women and it’s estimated it could cost the company billions of dollars to settle.

According to attorney Terry Collingsworth of the International Labor Rights Fund, which represents the plaintiffs, the current suit could cover anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 workers, and Wal-Mart’s potential liability could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Reuters reports.