A worker’s rights group reported last week that workers at an apparel factory in Cavite, Philippines were attacked and beaten on September 27th. by city police and “free trade zone police” while they were peacefully picketing outside the Chong won Fashion garment factory, whose main client is Wal-Mart. According to the Philippine Workers’ Assistance Centre (WAC), 22 union members were injured in the attack. The workers walked off the job on September 25 to protest their employers’ refusal to sit down with their union to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement. WAC charges that at least 66 workers have already been fired for union activity. Police were reportedly blocking food from being delivered to the protesting workers. Wal-Mart carried out a factory audit one week before the trouble (September 20), but failed to meet with WAC to hear its side of the story, or to put sufficient pressure on its supplier to cease all harassment, discrimination and abuse of union members, says the group Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN). Wal-Mart’s code of conduct now requires its suppliers to respect their employees’ legal right to freely associate with any organization of their choosing and to not “obstruct or prevent such legitimate activities.” But in early September, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and MSN received a request for WAC to come to the aid of the Chong Won workers, who were being harassed, intimidated and physically assaulted for supporting their union. Security guards at the Korean-owned factory distributed flyers to the workers threatening that if they voted in favor of a strike, the company would lose orders and the factory would close. The ILRF and MSN contacted Wal-Mart and insisted that Wal-Mart pressure their supplier to comply with the retailer’s code of conduct — and Philippine law. MSN asked Wal-Mart for a meeting, and urged them to let the groups and the union see the findings of their factory audit. Wal-Mart agreed to do so, says the MSN, but then audited the factory and never met with WAC. The retailer apparently did meet with several union leaders inside the factory, but no audit report has been seen.
Wal-Mart in America says it’s not anti-union, just non-union. The company maintains a union hotline for store managers who are concerned about any union organizing in their store. Wal-Mart recently distributed a 4 page memo on Frequently Asked Questions for management, which included the following question and answer: Q: What do I say to an Associate who mentions a union? A: Thank the Associate for voicing his or her concern. State our company’s position on unions and third-party representation. After you have concluded the discussion, call the Union Hotline at 479-273-8300. Wal-Mart also doesn’t like managers talking to reporters, so the company has a media hotline also: 479-273-4314. Reporters reading this story who wonder if Wal-Mart really enforces its code of conduct at its thousands of foreign factories, give the Media Hotline a jingle. For related stories, search Newsflash by “sweatshops” or “unions.”