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Walmart

As You Sow and its colleagues co-filed shareholder proposals asking Walmart to report on its compliance with supplier vendor standards in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. These efforts were led by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church and many ICCR members. Following consultations with shareholders, the company began to publish reports on its auditing process in 2003. One positive step was the addition of stronger language to the company's code in regard to freedom of association. ICCR investors have visited Walmart supplier factories and made suggestions for improvements of their monitoring procedures.

In 2004 and 2005, proposals seeking a report on environmental, economic, and social sustainability was filed.

Background

As the world's largest retailer and company, Walmart has become a symbol for a host of concerns related to ethical business practices. As You Sow been part of a dialogue with the company for many years convened by members of Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). The dialogue has focused on treatment of workers in the company's vast international supply chain. The company's most recent report on standards for suppliers states that it purchases goods directly from 5,300 factories in 60 countries. (This does not include goods made for hundreds of name brands which are sold at Walmart.)

Over the past decade, a string of revelations by journalists and groups has revealed a variety of abusive labor conditions at Walmart suppliers. Revelations that Kathie Lee Gifford's line of apparel at Walmart was produced by child laborers at a supplier factory in Honduras in the mid-1990s was a wakeup call for millions of Americans about the pervasiveness of sweatshop labor.

Business Week concluded in an October 2000 investigative report that commercial auditors failed to uncover many egregious conditions in factories despite interviews with dozens of workers. The investigation detailed how factory owners were able to routinely hoodwink social auditors hired by retail companies. The report focused on a plant in China that made handbags for Walmart. In the article, Walmart Vice President Jay Allen suggested the company might soon set up an independent monitoring project working with ICCR but the company backed out of a tentative agreement soon after the article was published.

Many of the abuses missed by auditors were uncovered in research published by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based activist group, working with local labor and human rights groups.



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