Wal-Mart suppliers in China charged with rights abuses

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Wal-Mart supplier factories in China feature abusive conditions in violation of the retailer's own "basic" standards, a labor report showed Wednesday 25 November.

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Workers making shoes, Christmas lights, tools, curtains and paper boxes sold at Wal-Mart stores endure "illegal and degrading conditions," New York-based China Labor Watch said, based on its probe.

The group's investigation of five Wal-Mart supplier factories reveals that "not a single factory has implemented Wal-Mart's basic standards, and a total of 10,000 workers included in the report suffer serious rights abuses," the group said in a statement.

Wal-Mart has persistently faced charges of rights abuses relating to its workers in China, from where it procures billions of dollars worth of goods directly to maintain its position as the world's largest retailer.

"This is not about a single factory, but about Wal-Mart's inability to implement its standards," says CLW executive director Li Qiang.

In the report, CLW attributed the alleged failure to "ineffective auditing and a pricing structure that forces factories to sell goods at unsustainable prices.

"As the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart leverages its massive product orders to purchase goods at low prices, and workers suffer the financial burden," the group said.

As Wal-Mart gears up for year-end holiday sales, the report said two of the five factories "illegally underpay overtime wages at rates as low as 44 cents per hour."

Two factories withheld wages from workers who fail to meet production quotas, it said.

"Workers' low wages are further undermined by excessive fines and unpaid days off or maternity leave, and some workers cannot even purchase social security," the report charged.

Worker abuse extends beyond paychecks, CLW claimed, saying workers at two factories were denied gloves on the grounds that it would slow production, and dormitory conditions were so poor that at one factory, "there was no running water in the bathrooms."

"Worst of all, two of the factories have rules forcing workers to lie to Wal-Mart auditors, forcing workers into silence as Wal-Mart turns a blind eye to sweatshop conditions," it claimed.

Wal-Mart entered China in 1996 and employs more than 50,000 people in 147 outlets in the country.

The retailer allows trade unions to operate in its China stores but it is at odds with representatives of US unions unable to organize in its home operations.

Asked about the latest report, Wal-Mart had no immediate comment.

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