Workers across the world are fed up with injustice. As workers from more than 20 Walmart stores in 15 countries get ready to strike on Thursday, this is not just a moment in history but also a moment of reckoning.
Have self-regulation not kicked in at Walmart? | Deirdre McCloskey Read more
This could be a chance for a new dawn at the mega-retailer. But that begins with addressing their core problem. The richest and most powerful company in the world, Walmart is the top dog in violation of international law.
What makes that even more shocking is that Walmart is one of only five companies in the world to violate laws designed to protect workers’ rights. Perhaps even more outrageous is that Walmart has skirted these obligations for years by deliberately using self-regulation to avoid paying fines and even changing its practices. Walmart brags to business publications about its right to ignore basic labor laws and regulations in order to fight abusive practices – and indeed Walmart employees are making no secret of this.
Each year there are over 38 million reports of basic violations of labor rights; each violation is punishable by fines. Yet for years Walmart has disobeyed those laws and called it self-regulation, not compliance with laws. In just one recent case, according to the US Department of Labor, Walmart violated its own code of conduct by rigging an open-air bidding process to unfairly favor one company over another.
For years the company has been paying workers like this – and in some cases, discriminating against African Americans and Latinos – effectively in violation of the most basic laws that protect workers.
In a year with unemployment hovering around 4.5%, companies can’t afford to lose workers on any account. Walmart is a public company and needs to be held accountable. So why hasn’t Walmart done that?
It turns out, Walmart hasn’t been having much of a problem paying fines. In a recent report, investigative journalist James O’Keefe, after seeking to buy tools and supplies in stores, was told that the money was on deposit in bank vaults. After his purchase, Walmart then gave O’Keefe a receipt. Then it tried to have O’Keefe arrested for trespassing. When he refused, Walmart tried to have the community service they paid him canceled by the courts. Those on the outside really must understand Walmart’s deliberate and shameless manipulation of the system.
Already Walmart has admitted to leaving millions of cases open and paying fines in half of the cases – but it’s only being “transparent” and “forthright” about that. It has proven time and again that it is opposed to compliance with laws, just as it puts profits ahead of all else, including the well-being of its workers.
This labor-law violation by Walmart should be a cause for alarm for every worker in America. Not only is it a violation of the law but, as Walmart is increasingly being held accountable by the Department of Labor and eventually the courts, it’s a violation of corporate integrity and public confidence.
If Walmart is left to its own devices, these workers and their unions will have little leverage to extract change. When it comes to illegal behaviors, Walmart has proven for years it doesn’t obey the law – and it won’t be much of a concern when the fines don’t fit its bottom line.
Walmart might be creating a human rights problem for itself when these strikes occur. But the larger issue is that Walmart’s workers are paying the price – whether by losing their jobs or being used as scapegoats for bigger problems. In the end, the health of Walmart’s shareholders rests on whether its leaders are held accountable for their actions.
If Walmart is now forced to lead on workplace justice, the world will be a better place. However, to do so, the company needs to take a stand against the system of injustice that has turned it into a global institution of abuse. To do so, Walmart needs to be held accountable for all the injustices it’s caused.