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Wal-Mart Wanted.

New York City

The National Labor Committee is taking on Wal-Mart for its treatment of sweatshop workers.

The New York-based organization that campaigns against sweatshops says it conducted a 1997 study showing company contractors in China are mistreating workers.

"Wal-Mart is actually lowering standards in China, slashing wages and benefits, imposing long mandatory overtime shifts, while tolerating the arbitrary firing of workers who even dare to discuss factory conditions," says the group. "Factories like Liang Shi, where `Kathie Lee' hand-bags are made, pay the young women as little as twelve-and-a half cents an hour, forcing them to work eighty-four hours a week, while keeping them under constant surveillance. Some workers are in the position of indentured servants, not being paid for several months. The workers are housed in dirty, cramped rooms and fed a thin rice gruel."

Activists with the National Labor Committee plan to send thousands of WAL-MART WANTED posters around the world. The group is targeting Wal-Mart because it is the largest retailer in the world, with 825,000 employees and $118 billion in yearly sales. In 1997, Wal-Mart's profits were $7 billion.

"We try to do what's right and always have," says Wal-Mart in response to the campaign. "Since 1992, we have required our vendors and suppliers to abide by our `Standards for Vendors' policy.... In fact, Wal-Mart has ceased doing business with 120 factories for violating our vendor standards." Those standards require the company to comply with the laws of the host country. They also forbid the use of child, prison, or slave labor.

The National Labor Committee's effort against Wal-Mart is part of its People's Right to Know Campaign.

"The American people have a right to know in which countries, in which factories, under what human-rights conditions, and under what wages these products are made," says Charles Kernaghan, director of the committee. "Almost all production goes on behind cinderblock walls topped with barbed wire, behind metal gates, and with heavily armed guards."

Many U.S. companies refuse to disclose where they make their products, says Kernaghan, because "they know the American people would be sick to their stomachs if they knew the conditions under which these products are made."

The group's People's Right to Know Campaign says:

* Corporations must make public the list of factories producing their goods around the world.

* They must open the factories to local, respected independent religious and human-rights monitors.

* They must pay a living wage.

For more information, contact the National Labor Committee, 275 Seventh Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001. Or call (212) 242-3002.
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Publication:The Progressive
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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