Wal-Mart supply workers 'press for change'Technorati Tags: wal-mart walmart
Groups want retail chain to take responsibility for conditions at foreign companies that produce its goods
Beatriz Fuentes doesn't want consumers to boycott Wal-Mart. If they did, it would mean the cut-flower plantation she works for in Colombia might go out of business, leaving her without a job.
Instead, she wants people to be aware of the conditions she works under, and why Wal-Mart - which purchases 80 percent of her employers' Splendor Flowers products - should be held accountable.
"Wal-Mart only cares about quality and quantity. They don't care about workers," she said through a translator.
Fuentes, 29, described a workplace where pesticides from flowers make workers sick, repetitive tasks cause back problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, and workers are forced to work as much as 20 hours per day.
Owned by Dole, a worldwide supplier of produce and flowers, Splendor Flowers began to lay off workers who could not meet quotas and tried to run out employees who tried to unionize, she said. The company also supplies flowers to the grocery chain Albertson's.
Fuentes is one of three people who are on tour throughout the United States and were brought to Pullman by the International Labor Rights Fund. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization is dedicated to achieving humane treatment for workers worldwide.
About 50 people from the community turned out for the event, held in the Center for Undergraduate Education Building on the Washington State University campus. None of the audience members defended Wal-Mart.
The event was sponsored by the WSU Chicano/Latin Student Center, the Progressive Students Union and the department of comparative ethnic studies.
Trina Tocco, campaign coordinator with ILRF, said the group is trying to bring awareness to American consumers about conditions in supply factories that ignore labor laws and retailers who take advantage of foreign and domestic workers.
"Be assured, Wal-Mart is not the only problem. We focus on Wal-Mart because they are the largest. They are the biggest problem, but they are not the only problem," she said. "You can also do this for Nike or the GAP. Walk in and start asking questions."
Led by Tocco, the group initially planned to give a walking tour through the Moscow Wal-Mart. But they were delayed while driving into town, and the tour was canceled. Wal-Mart employees were waiting for the group outside the store and would not have allowed them to proceed with a tour through the Moscow store.
Tocco said they have been able to conduct the tour in some Wal-Marts when managers were not privy to their presence. They also have been kicked off Wal-Mart property.
Police were on-hand in the Moscow Wal-Mart parking lot Monday.
Kotagarahalli Ramaiah Jayaram, a former garment worker in Banglalore, India, said workers made less than $2 a day and were not provided adequate benefits. Injured workers were not allowed to leave to receive medical treatment and risked public humiliation or being fired. His former employer, Textport Syndicate, also made apparel for the GAP and Nike.
Cynthia Foley, an ex-dairy stock worker for a Wal-Mart in Florida, said she experienced comparative conditions domestically by not making a living wage and facing unjust management practices.
"Wal-Mart hires you under the impression that you'll have ... a good-paying job," she said.
Foley was fired after she tried to alert managers to a co-worker who continually sexually harassed her.
"They were trying to keep me quiet," she said. "I'm still trying to fight them."
Jayaram, now an organizer for the Garment and Textile Workers' Union, said workers deserve safe and fair conditions.
"Workers want a reasonable product quota. Workers want a living wage," he said.
Mahlon Kriebel, of Garfield, empathized with the panel, but said United States-based groups such as ILRF are not going to enforce change.
"Don't look to Americans for change," he said. "We're living in a capitalistic state."
Instead, Kriebel believes global unions should be formed to create more strength in numbers.
"Big companies are global. The unions aren't global," he said, adding he had no suggestions as to how global unions would be formed.
Christina Vala disagreed.
The Pullman resident was openly moved by the panel's first-hand accounts and said everyone, regardless of country or political affiliation, needs to rally for change.
"We need to hear these stories," she said. "It's time that we care. This is ridiculous. We can't just sit back and say, 'We're in a capitalistic society.' We can't just sit back and say, 'Oh, well.' "
Tocco said consumers everywhere need to be aware of where their products come from. She suggests communicating concerns with both companies and legislators, buying "ethically produced goods" and financially supporting causes such as ILRF.
"We're part of this because we put on a shirt each morning," she said.
Fuentes is optimistic. She and her co-workers have pushed for improved working conditions such as gender equality and overtime pay, though progress is slow.
"We need the strength to press for change," she said.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Shame on the Daily News
It seems I criticized David Johnson of the Tribune too harshly. Hillary Hamm's story on PARD's "sweatshop" presentation on today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News is horrible compared with Johnson's piece. Hamm never mentions PARD as being involved at all. That would have clearly demonstrated a link with the unions that PARD has consistently denied. Nor does she point out the blatant hypocrisy of how Fuentes doesn't want a boycott of Wal-Mart as that would cost jobs, versus PARD, which has circulated a petition calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart as Johnson did. Apparently the issue of PARD's support of Target, which also buys from sweatshops, never came up either. And of course no one defended Wal-Mart. There were no opposing viewpoints being presented. Shame on the Daily News for buying into all this propaganda lock stock and barrel with no fact checking or opportunity for rebuttal.