Here’s a case to refer to Wal-Mart’s new Office of Ethics: Is it ethical to use under-age workers to operate dangerous equipment? Is it ethical for the federal government to give Wal-Mart more than two weeks advance notice of a wage and hour investigation? The federal government has been on Wal-Mart’s case about underage violations for 4 years now, and recently announced that it had “settled” with Wal-Mart. These “settlements” allow Wal-Mart to “admit to no wrong-doing”, while buying their way out of the charges. Does that sound ethical? In this case, the retailer agreed to pay $135,540 to get rid of federal charges that the company violated child labor laws in three states. According to the New York Times, the U.S. Department of Labor had prepared two dozen charges against Wal-Mart in Connecticut, Arkansas, and New Hampshire. Most of these cases involved the use of children under 18 to operate dangerous machinery, like chain saws or baling machines. 20 of the charges were in Connecticut. According to the New York Times, the settlement was signed almost a month ago, but was not revealed by Wal-Mart. As part of the settlement, the DOL said it would provide Wal-Mart with 15 days’ advance notice on any investigations of “wage and hour” accusations, which could include failure to pay minimum wage or overtime. The federal government said it would “not open an investigation of Wal-Mart without first notifying Wal-Mart’s main office and allowing them an opportunity to look at the alleged violations and, if valid, correct the problem.” Wal-Mart is being sued in 35 states by its own workers for shaving hours off worker’s paychecks. As part of the agreement, Wal-Mart promised it would not hire anyone under age 14, and would not allow any worker under 18 to operate cardboard balers. Wal-Mart also said it would train new store managers about compliance with child labor laws.
Wal-Mart’s track record in offering such training is not very exemplary. Settlements with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) over discrimination charges have required training programs that were not done to the regulator’s satisfaction. These latest child labor settlements are similar to charges that Sprawl-Busters wrote about in the state of Maine, where Wal-Mart paid $205,650 to settle 1,371 violations of wages and hours laws for employing minors for too many hours, during school hours, and too late at night. For earlier stories on this subject, search Newsflash by “child labor.” Once again, Wal-Mart has paid a big “fine” for doing nothing wrong.