Chelmsford TUC

Labour & Trade Union Boycotts

Wal-Mart in Honduras

Wal-Mart, which makes huge operating profits every year, owns the British company, Asda. Wal-Mart has been accused by a Jesuit priest of extreme exploitation of workers.

He said "Going into these factories is like entering prison, where you leave your life outside. The factory owners do not let, and don’t want, the young workers to think for themselves. They want them to be stupid. The workers need permission to use the bathroom, and they are told when they can and cannot go. Young women enter these factories at 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old. They become a mechanism of production, working 9 hours a day plus two, three or four hours overtime, performing the same operation over and over, day after day. A woman in the pressing department is required to iron 1,200 shirts a day, standing up, and her hands and fingers swell up from the hot iron. These young workers rarely last more than six years; when they leave they are exhausted, have no other useful skills nor have they developed intellectually. These young workers enter the factory with a sixth grade education, with no understanding of the companies whose clothing they sew or the forces shaping where they fit into the global economy. They soon feel impotent, seeing that the Ministry of Labor does nothing, or almost nothing, to help defend their rights. Once the women start working in the factory they often fall into debt. The wages are very low and no one can survive on them." The US Commerce Department Report of 17 February 1998 said: "The minimum wage [in Honduras] is considered insufficient to provide for a decent standard of living for a worker and family."

The majority of the workers in these factories are young women who sit on hard wooden benches, without back rests, in long production lines of 60 or more, for 12 hours a day or more, in a hot, windowless, dusty factory. They enter at 7 a.m. and leave at 7p.m. when it is already dark. They are not allowed to talk, and they need permission to use the bathroom, which is monitored and limited. Everyone works by piece rate, repeating the same sewing operation 1,200 to 1,500 times a day. Often loud music is blasted in the factory, as if it will make the women work faster. It is common for the supervisors to scream and yell at the workers to go faster, and even to throw the garments in the women’s faces if they see so much as a loose thread. Permission to be absent is rarely given, even if there is a sick child at home that requires care. Though money is deducted from the workers’ wages, they are rarely allowed to use the social security health clinic during working hours. Many factories simply cheat the workers by illegally pocketing their social security deductions. It is also common to be shortchanged of their legal holidays.

There is absolutely no right to freedom of association; the right to organise is totally denied. Anyone even suspected of organising a union is immediately, and illegally, fired. The workers do not even have the right to meet so they can learn their rights, let alone raise a grievance. No worker in these factories has ever heard of the Wal-Mart Code of Conduct. In reality, the Wal-mart human rights screening of contractors, their Code of Conduct and its implementation, has been a failure. If Wal-mart actually believed in human rights, and they were not trying to cover up serious abuses, they would provide the names and addresses of the factories they use in Honduras and other countries around the world.

It is not only in Honduras that Wal-mart’s approach gives cause for concern. Have a look at Wake-up which provides many facts about the company.

An interesting book that details the history of Wal-Marts exploitation, particularly of the Third World, is "In Sam We Trust" written by Bob Ortega.

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