Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wal-Mart Curbs Rights to Free Association

Surveillance. Harassment. Indoctrination. Human rights abuses. I could be talking about China, Iran, North Korea or (whisper it quietly) the UK. But no, I am referring to the bastard of all corporate bastards, Wal-Mart - the parent company of the Asda chain.

A report was released by Human Rights Watch detailing the lengths that Wal-Mart will go to in order to keep their workforce from organising and campaigning for better conditions. According to The Guardian, the report reveals that:

Wal-Mart...has elaborate tactics to stop staff from coming together to fight for better conditions. The company is accused of focusing security cameras on areas where staff congregate and shifting around loyal workers in "unit packing" tactics to ensure votes for union recognition are defeated.

Store managers at Wal-Mart also receive 'tool boxes' to enable them to "remain free in the event union organisers choose your facility as their next target". In what is clearly an orchestrated effort by the company to crack down on any hint of an organised workforce, managers are also advised to phone a special 'union hotline' if they suspect members of staff are organising.

The lengths that they go to to ensure that staff do not unionise is remarkable. Members of staff are rounded up and forced to watch propaganda that highlights the perils of a unionised workforce. Videos presented by Paul French & Partners besiege the viewer with various 'facts' about the disruption caused by union members and leave staff in no doubt that unionisation is a bad thing. As Carol Price, author of the report, explains:

"Wal-Mart's aggressive and sophisticated anti-union strategy is based out of its headquarters. This is not a store-by-store problem - the violations are a direct result of the company's philosophy."

Historically, Wal-Mart has always had an issue with unions. As The Guardian reports:

In a breach of US law, Wal-Mart has allegedly banned union organisers from distributing flyers outside its stores and has confiscated literature found on the premises. Since Wal-Mart began in 1962, there has only been one successful formation of a union - among meat cutters in Texas seven years ago. The department was subsequently shut down - an act ruled illegal by US labour authorities.

Wal-Mart's subsidiary in the UK has already seen a shift in tactics towards union members. They have already been fined £850,000 for offering illegal inducements to staff to disown their union. There is no doubt whatsoever that Asda will try to follow the same policies of the parent company, and we can expect many more examples of union busting in the future. However, the findings of this report might just start a backlash against the unfair practices of a company that is the largest company in the latest Fortune 500 rankings. It is time to up the pressure on Asda and force them to change their business practices. It is only by hitting them where they hurt that we can make an example out of Wal-Mart and send a warning to all corporations that the workforce has rights that need protecting.

Read the full report here.