Friday, September 02, 2016

Walmart power

With its 1.5 million U.S. employees and 2.3 million employees worldwide, Walmart is the largest private employer in this country, and one of the largest employers in the world.  It’s 11,500 stores and its e-commerce in 11 countries earned the company $482.1 billion in total revenues this year, and it commands a global production chain that manufactures billions of dollars of merchandise, particularly clothing and fashion items, through its relations with factories in such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Indonesia. 

Recently the company raised its minimum wage in the U.S., so that part-time workers make an average of $10.58 per hour, up from from $9.48 last year.  This raise came on the heels of widespread press coverage of Walmart employees receiving food stamps and other forms of government assistance in order to get by. High employee turnover, as well as pressure from political leaders and activist groups, were probably other significant factors that pushed against corporate foot-dragging. Yet even with the raise, thousands of part-time Walmart employees still struggle to get sufficient hours to pay their bills, and the new Walmart minimum scarcely comes close to the $15 an hour target seen by many as a living wage baseline today.

Walmart’s presence on the international stage is hardly more benign.  With its power to shift production from one supplier to another in various countries, Walmart can drive prices and wages down without bearing direct responsibility as the employer of record.  In Cambodia, for example, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), an umbrella organization representing a broad coalition of trade unions and human rights organizations, reported that workers in factories supplying Walmart and other brands were being compensated at levels significantly below what constituted a living wage, i.e. a wage needed to sustain themselves and their families with the essentials of life. When Cambodian workers appealed directly to Walmart for higher wages, those appeals went unheeded, and a strike for a higher minimum wage was violently suppressed by the Cambodian government.


The Walton family, who collectively own about half the stock of the company.  Their wealth amounts to $130 billion, according to Forbes. 

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