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Wal-Mart Runs Afoul of U.S. Law, According to Human Rights Watch


Human Rights Watch has found Wal-Mart to be violation of federal laws, due to the retail chain’s alleged attempts to prevent workers from forming a union.

(Photo Credit: faul/Flickr)

In “How Federal Law Helps Wal-Mart Fight Unionization,” we discussed how Wal-Mart stays within the lines of federal law while discouraging any attempts by employees to form a union. However, according to Human Rights Watch, Wal-Mart is not above breaking the law in order to squash worker rights. In their report “Discounting Rights,” HRW asserts that Wal-Mart uses illegal techniques ranging from censorship to firing employees, in order to stamp out any attempt at workers organizing.

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The National Labor Relations Board and Human Rights Watch both found that Wal-Mart illegally bans union organizers from handing out leaflets outside of its stores. Wal-Mart has confiscated literature not only from break rooms, but from workers’ hands. Wal-Mart allows leaflets from non-union organizations, but actively censors union information.


Wal-Mart has played upon employee fears by making serious threats. Employees considering forming a union are often concerned about working full-time and not being able to afford to live. Unions offer the ability to collectively bargain for a living wage including benefits, such as sick pay. Human Rights Watch reports Wal-Mart has threatened to retaliate against employees with loss of benefits, such as raises, if they form a union.

Interrogation and Espionage

Human Rights Watch reports that Wal-Mart has sent managers to eavesdrop on employee conversations. They coercively interrogate employees about their own feelings about unions, and also question employees about their friends’ opinions about unions. Hard to imaging this sort of manipulation happening in the 21st century in the “free world.” In the Wal-Mart store in Kingman, Arizona, management allegedly set up security cameras in the areas employees tended to congregate and discuss union issues. It’s enough to make you think that Big Brother really is watching.

You’re Fired!

Human Rights Watch found that company policies were enforced against union employees but not non-union supporters. This inconsistency is illegal. The National Labor Relations Board found that Wal-Mart would transfer union supporters to get them away from each other and discourage unionization. Doing this in order to fight unions is illegal.

Firing people for supporting unions is also illegal. Human Rights Watch discusses the case of Brad Jones, a union supporter who worked at the Kingman, Arizona store. Former managers admitted that they were told to focus “security” cameras on Jones to monitor his sharing union information. Jones, whose work record was exemplary, was eventually fired.

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