Informal Workers: When No One Watching, No One Cares – Walmart & Domestics

New Orleans  In the modern workforce economy of informal workers, contingent employees, and endless layers of subcontracting, both domestically and internationally, the obvious conclusion is that when no one is watching, no one cares, and, perhaps worse, no one is ever accountable.  This is not just a “race to the bottom,” but deliberate strategies to conceal, avoid, and operate with impunity in the most predatory fashion possible.

On the Walmart Watch

In the ashes of the Bangladesh fire with the obvious physical evidence of Faded Glory clothing in their hands, as reported by the Times, Walmart was not able to continue to insist on yesterday’s lie that the Tazreen factory was NOT working for them.  The latest spin in perhaps even more pernicious than an outright lie!

On Monday, Walmart said that the ‘Tazreen factory was on longer authorized to produce merchandise for Walmart,’ but confirmed that one of its suppliers had ‘subcontracted’ work to the factory without authorization.  The company said that it was immediately terminating its relationship with the supplier.

So this is how it all works.  Walmart of course doesn’t manufacture anything directly so all of its suppliers are essentially subcontractors.  It goes unsaid whether subcontracted work from one of its contractors ever requires “authorization” from Bentonville.  But, hey, let the good times roll, who cares, Walmart thinks it can walk away despite all of the evidence to the contrary by simply firing an unnamed, unknown fall guy, “the supplier.”  Meanwhile the Clean Clothes Campaign tallied the deaths by fire in Bangladesh textile mills at 500 over the last 6 years, making it impossible to believe that even in Bentonville, Arkansas, there was not an acute understanding that the risk of fires in these plants was not always omnipresent.  Come on, man!

            Almost as amazing was another business based story on the release of a study called “Home Economics:  The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”  In what must be one of the least surprising conclusions ever produced by any foundation funded study in the history of such animals, the surveys exhaustively found that the workers were underpaid.  Heck, they didn’t even make a living wage!  Hello?!?  Invisible?  Unregulated?  That’s the point of informal labor, friends, not the surprise behind it.

Steven Greenhouse from the Times tries to pull one story out of the obvious from Barbara Young, an organizer for the domestic workers alliance.

Ms. Young said she once asked her employer to take out money to contribute to Social Security for her.  But at the end of the year, she recalled, the husband in the house returned that money, saying he had not bothered to pay it into Social Security.

Well, at least there is some surprise here.  It’s amazing that the “husband in the house” bothered to tell her that he had not paid and even more amazing that he “returned that money.”  Of course it is not surprising that the employer did not want to pay the matching contributions and payroll taxes either.

In 1980, ACORN’s Household Workers Organizing Committee (HWOC) based in New Orleans won and settled a lawsuit for domestic housekeepers that that required the IRS to notify employers who were actually paying social security that they also had to pay the federal minimum wage that covered such workers for the first time in 1978.  This is almost the definition of a Pyrrhic victory since the vast majority of employers were simply paying neither the minimum wage nor Social Security despite the requirements.  Little has changed in the intervening years.

Too bad the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and the Alexander Soros Foundation didn’t step up to the plate and actually move their funds to support the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance to do real organizing, rather than a survey proving the obvious and easily observable fact that domestic workers in the home are underpaid, blah, blah, blah.

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Walmart Watch: Occupy Reunion, Bangladesh Fire, and Spreading Retail Chaos

after the fire at Bangladesh factory

New Orleans   The protests of Black Friday may be over but that’s about all that’s over on either Black Friday or the woeful Walmart watch.

Occupy’s Role in Protests

One interesting side note of the protests is the critical, though largely unrecognized, role of the remnants of last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement and its widespread activist base around the country.  Looking at stories about the OUR Walmart protests around the country it was interesting and ironic that in place after place, picture after picture, that many of the protests seemed more of an Occupy reunion than a labor-based or union led event.  Certainly, the efforts I shared from Baton Rouge and Tupelo, Mississippi were 100% Occupy actions, regardless of the pale green OUR Walmart t-shirts they were provided by the campaign, and the local reporters, long familiar with the Occupy activists made that point clearly.  A number of the wire photos from the AP and even the centerpiece California action featured signs identifying protestors as Occupy adherents.  Maybe the internet initiated Black Friday protests were a fall offensive in the Occupy reunion tour?

Walmart Bangladesh Supplier Responsible in “Horrific” Fatal Fire for 120 Workers

            Though this was unmentioned in the wire story or the Wall Street Journal story on the terrible textile plant fire in Bangladesh, thanks are due for the excellent reporting by Vikas Jajaj from the Times for categorically nailing the Walmart connection to the fire right down to the Faded Glory Walmart jeans and clothing brand in the debris and ashes in the fire’s remains.  Jajau cites work on the scene by the International Labor Rights Forum as corroboration for this information, but also found clear evidence on the supplier’s own website.

A document posted on Tazreen Fashions’ Web site indicated that an “ethical sourcing” official for Walmart had flagged “violations and/or conditions which were deemed to be high risk” at the factory in May 2011, though it did not specify the nature of the infractions. The notice said that the factory had been given an “orange” grade and that any factories given three such assessments in two years from their last audit would not receive any Walmart orders for a year.

A spokesman for Walmart, Kevin Gardner, said the company was “so far unable to confirm that Tazreen is a supplier to Walmart nor if the document referenced in the article is in fact from Walmart.”

I’m sure it would have crossed the line from reporting to editorializing for Jajau to simply call Walmart and its spokesperson, Kevin Gardner, a liar, but clearly there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, he was lying like a rug!

There is blood on the hands of Walmart and other big name companies like Gap and Tommy Hilfiger.

Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.  “These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,” Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. “Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.”

Criminal negligence almost seems too legalistic for allowing these conditions to exist, especially when your own inspectors have already identified the risks, and you stand by waiting for disaster to strike, as it has now so tragically.

Endless Black Friday Push

Some folks chafed at Black Friday morphing into Thanksgiving Day, but the last paragraph in a Times article reminds us that it’s all about the buck and that’s the real tradition driving these holidays.

“…Thanksgiving falls when it does in part because of the efforts of the retailer Fred R. Lazarus Jr., head of Federated Department Stores. He lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week — and thus extend the holiday shopping season.”

This might be a faceoff  between two giants, the NFL and the Walmarts of the world, but it’s all about the money, honey!

 

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