WhyHunger ally, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), released a new report that exposes major discord between Walmart’s labor and environmental claims and the reality in its food supply chain and provides recommendations for improvements. Findings in the report show that Walmart’s commitments to improving these standards have not translated to actual improvements in working conditions or the environment across most of its food supply chain.
The report, “Walmart at the Crossroads: the Environmental and Labor Impact of Its Food Supply Chain,” looks closely at Walmart’s impact on farmers and at the labor and environmental records of 22 major suppliers of popular food items – suppliers include Dole, Taylor Farms, Tyson, and United Natural Foods, Inc. According to Walmart’s “Ethical Sourcing” standards, all suppliers and their manufacturing facilities at a minimum: “must fully comply with all applicable national and/or local laws and regulations, including but not limited to those related to labor, immigration, health and safety, and the environment.”
But the report finds that Walmart has failed to enforce supplier compliance with its code of ethics around labor practices, environmental sustainability, and sourcing local food. The report finds that workers in Walmart’s stores and in its food supply chain endure a slew of labor abuses, including gender and racial discrimination, unfair treatment of immigrants, low pay, violations of freedom of association, and even workplace accidents and fatalities.
Key findings include:
Labor Walmart’s labor standards require: “All labor must be voluntary. Slave, child, underage, forced, bonded, or indentured labor will not be tolerated. Suppliers shall not engage in or support trafficking in human beings.” Despite these standards, the report found:
- A large seafood supplier to Walmart was recently exposed for its ties to slave labor. Thailand-based seafood exporter Charoen Pokphand Foods bought fishmeal for its farmed shrimp “from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves and that “large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to [shrimp] production.”
- Walmart banana suppliers, from which the company purchases one billion pounds of bananas annually, have well-documented harmful labor and environmental practices.
- A major Walmart egg supplier has been targeted by the Department of Justice for discriminatory practices against newly hired non-U.S. citizens, requiring additional or different security documents than what is legally required.
Local Food and Small Farmers In 2010, Walmart announced that by the end of 2015, it would sell $1 billion worth of local food sourced from 1 million small and medium farmers, and increase the income of the small and medium farmers it sources from by 10 to 15 percent. Called its “Heritage Agriculture” program, Walmart also made several country-specific commitments to local and small farmers, for example, in India and China.
- Five years later, there is no mention of the program on its corporate website beyond 2010 and the link in the original announcement points to the home page, a sign that the program was not developed as promised.
- Small farmers report the challenges of supplying to Walmart, including inconsistent practices and lack of loyalty on contracts, such as refusing to fulfill its obligations to buy from a supplier if a distribution center has already met its quota.
- Overseas, the consequences can be especially dire where small farmers are already marginalized. If Walmart decides not to renew a contract with one of these small producers, the farmer might not be able to stay in business because they have made investments that make it difficult to transition to another buyer.
Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and one of the most highly valued publicly traded companies. Foodstuffs currently account for over half of Walmart sales, representing roughly 25% of all groceries sold in the U.S.
“Walmart, today, could use its power and influence to improve labor conditions in its supply chain,” says Jose Oliva, Co-Director of the FCWA. “Walmart could enforce its code of conduct and instruct United Natural Foods, Inc., Taylor Farms, and Gerawan Farming that they need to respect their employees’ right to organize and collectively bargain. Walmart could require transparency in its supply chain to prevent the use of forced and slave labor, especially in the Asian seafood industry. And Walmart could pay $15 per hour and provide full-time hours to its own employees.”