December 9, 2005
On Friday, December 2, 2005, the French-language Radio Canada program Zone Libre exposed Wal-Mart for using child labour at two factories in Bangladesh. According to the one-hour program, children 10-14 years old were discovered working in the factories for less than $50 a month, making "Simply Basic" and other Wal-Mart-brand products for export to Canada.
A Wal-Mart spokesperson interviewed on the program claimed that the factories were sub-contract facilities and declared that his company was cutting off all future orders to the suppliers.
Cutting and running is the worst possible response to reports of child labour or other sweatshop abuses, since it discourages workers from telling the truth to factory auditors for fear of losing their jobs and encourages suppliers to hide abuses or subcontract work to other factories that will escape inspection.
Nor can Wal-Mart be allowed to place all the blame for the use of child labour on its Bangladeshi suppliers. The every-day low prices Wal-Mart pays to suppliers encourage the use of cheap labour, including child labour. As well, suppliers are often forced to subcontract parts of production to other factories in order to meet unreasonable order deadlines.
Instead of cutting and running from its responsibilities, Wal-Mart should work with its suppliers to eliminate future use of child labour and provide sufficient compensation to the current child labourers and their families to allow the children to receive a decent education.
A just-released study carried out by MSN for the Ethical Trading Action Group (ETAG), the Transparency Report Card, gave Wal-Mart a failing mark of 30 at least partially because it does not have a staged approach to dealing with serious worker rights abuses. The Report Card also criticizes Wal-Mart's code of conduct for undercutting internationally recognized minimum labour standards by setting 14 as the minimum working age and sanctioning a 72-hour workweek.
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