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Wal-Mart attacked by Human Rights Watch

The Wall Street Journal reports that:

“A human-rights group released a critical report on Wal-Mart Stores Inc., alleging the retailer used security cameras to spy on union sympathizers and planted supervisors alongside pro-union workers to monitor activities, among other actions that violated federal labor laws.

The 210-page report by Human Rights Watch is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the company’s actions during union organizing drives, according to labor professors. It examines dozens of drives at a U.S. Wal-Mart store between 2000 and 2005 and cites 15 decisions by the National Labor Relations Board that found Wal-Mart violated labor laws during those drives.

The group found a total of four such decisions during that period at seven other major retailers, including Target Corp., Sears Holdings Corp. and its Kmart unit. The report comes as the company has been under scrutiny for its security operations after a U.S. attorney began an investigation into the interception and recording of telephone calls and pager messages by a Wal-Mart security worker.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117797666451287506.html?mod=djemITP&apl=y

In response, Wal-Mart said that:

“This pro-union report uses incomplete interviews and unsubstantiated allegations from as much as six to seven years ago to support a union-backed bill before Congress,” said David Tovar, director of communications at Wal-Mart. “We remain committed to compliance with U.S. laws regarding workers’ right to unionize.” Human Rights Watch is funded primarily by individuals and charitable groups and said it receives no contributions from unions.”

It’s interesting that a non-union group is turning up the heat on US retailers. As one senior PR consultant put it to me the other day “it’s so easy for us to get good coverage from the business press with environmental initiatives” – taking away interest in social and other issues. Indeed the coverage of private equity, where favourable, is about how many jobs it creates (quite a lot apparently) but has not touched on the conditions under which those workers are employed.

Surely time social issues came back on the agenda after much environmental hysteria and hubris. And will working conditions be the reputational achilles heel for private equity? Ethical Corporation plans to investigate further.

We’re also going to be looking into a lot of green claims and what actually lies behind them in some major brands soon. Keep checking:
http://www.ethicalcorp.com for details.

Toby Webb, Editor

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