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Wal-Mart’s holiday of sorrow

Stuart Appelbaum | 11/21/2013, 1:52 p.m.
The holiday decorations are starting to appear, and that means the busiest shopping season is almost upon us. And as ...
Stuart Applebaum

The holiday decorations are starting to appear, and that means the busiest shopping season is almost upon us. And as Black Friday approaches, consumers will be faced with choices as to how they’ll spend their money for holiday gifts. They’ll be buying gifts to spread joy to friends and family, but many, unfortunately, will be doing it at Wal-Mart, where one of the main holiday “presents” will be sorrow for its workers at their stores and within their production chain.

For consumers who want to do their holiday shopping responsibly, Wal-Mart simply isn’t an option, regardless of the Black Friday sales specials the world’s largest retailer comes up with this season. It’s disregard for workers’ health and safety became apparent in the wake of the tragedy at a Bangladesh clothing factory earlier this year, where 1,127 people were killed and over 2,500 people were injured.

The factory produced clothing for numerous Western retail chains, including Wal-Mart, and the accident spurred an outcry from workers and their advocates demanding corporations take responsibility for the safety of workers who produce the things they sell. In the wake of the disaster, many international companies—including H&M, which employs members of RWDSU Local 1102—agreed to sign the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,” which calls for corporations to take an active role in the inspection and supervision of their suppliers’ factories.

Wal-Mart, which uses hundreds of factories in Bangladesh, refused to sign the accord and instead, in a phony public relations gesture, created a toothless safety “program” that provides no legally binding protection for workers. In what is literally a matter of life and death, Wal-Mart chose to callously shrug off the safety of workers in Bangladesh.

It should come as no surprise that Wal-Mart holds its international workforce in such low regard. After all, Wal-Mart has also been mistreating its workers here at home for years. The average Wal-Mart associate makes just $8.81 an hour, meaning that hundreds of thousands of full-time Wal-Mart workers live below the poverty line. The retailer’s low wages and weak benefits force it’s workers to seek out state-subsidized benefits, costing U.S. taxpayers over $1 billion annually. Wal-Mart routinely forces its workers onto “flexible schedules,” meaning they don’t get the hours they need and have little control over their daily lives.

It won’t be a happy holiday season for countless Wal-Mart workers, for whom paying the bills and providing for their families can be a daily struggle. These workers deserve better, and Wal-Mart doesn’t deserve consumers’ money. This holiday season, conscientious consumers will be shopping elsewhere.