The retail giant Wal-Mart has become the nation’s largest
private sector employer with an estimated 1.2 million employees. The
company’s annual revenues now amount to 2 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic
Product. Wal-Mart’s success is attributed to its ability to charge low prices
in mega-stores offering everything from toys and furniture to groceries. While
charging low prices obviously has some consumer benefits, mounting evidence from
across the country indicates that these benefits come at a steep price for
American workers, U.S. labor laws, and community living standards.
Wal-Mart is undercutting labor standards at home and abroad,
while those federal officials charged with protecting labor standards have been
largely indifferent. Public outcry against Wal-Mart’s labor practices has been
answered by the company with a cosmetic response. Wal-Mart has attempted to
offset its labor record with advertising campaigns utilizing employees (who are
euphemistically called “associates”) to attest to Wal-Mart’s
employment benefits and support of local communities. Nevertheless – whether
the issue is basic organizing rights of workers, or wages, or health benefits,
or working conditions, or trade policy – Wal-Mart has come to represent the
lowest common denominator in the treatment of working people.
This report reviews Wal-Mart’s labor practices across the
country and around the world and provides an overview of how working Americans
and their allies in Congress are seeking to address the gamut of issues raised
by this new standard-bearer of American retail.