Sweatshop Workers on Four Continents Sue Wal-Mart


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2005 (202) 721-0111; 258-5437

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Workers from California, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nicaragua & Swaziland Denied Basic Rights


Wal-Mart workers on four continents sued the giant retailer today in California Superior Court in Los Angeles. They maintain that Wal-Mart failed to meet its contractual duty to ensure that its suppliers pay basic wages due; forced them to work excessive hours seven days a week with no time off for holidays; obstructed their attempts to form a union; and, made false and misleading statements to the American public about the company’s labor and human rights practices.

The workers are represented by Terry Collingsworth, executive director of the Washington, DC-based International Labor Rights Fund, and Los Angeles area co-counsels Dan Stormer of Hadsell and Stormer, and Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman. This legal team recently represented Burmese plaintiffs who sued Los Angeles-based Unocal corporation for using forced labor during the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Burma. The suit was settled earlier this year when the Burmese plaintiffs accepted a cash offer from the company that Business Week estimated to be in the vicinity of $30 million.

Wal-Mart maintains a Supplier Standards Agreement with its foreign suppliers that incorporates adherence to its corporate code of conduct as a direct condition of supplying products to Wal-Mart. By incorporating the code of conduct into the supply agreement, it creates a contractual obligation enforceable by the workers supplying to Wal-Mart, who are the intended beneficiaries of the code’s worker rights provisions.

Wal-Mart has consumer outlets throughout the United States, and sells light manufactured goods that are manufactured in thousands of factories around the world. Plaintiffs are class representatives for workers employed in Wal-Mart’s supplier factories, including factories located in Swaziland, Nicaragua, mainland China, Indonesia and Bangladesh who were denied their basic minimum wage, forced to work overtime, and in certain cases denied the right to organize. For these workers, this lawsuit represents one of the few viable ways in which these violations can be addressed, especially given the lack of enforceable mechanisms in their home countries.

The other class of Plaintiffs will be employees of California businesses which have been harmed by Wal-Mart’s unfair labor practices, including Wal-Mart’s false representations regarding compliance with its code of conduct, and which as a result have lost business and/or a competitive financial advantage. Within this class are also trade unions members who were forced to make wage and benefit concessions to allow their employers to try to compete with Wal-Mart. This class of plaintiffs will bring their claim under California’s Unfair Business Practices Act § 17200.