Community Bankers Association of Illinois

UNPAID TEENS BAG GROCERIES FOR WAL-MART!
FOR A FULL ARTICLE, CLICK HERE.
06/07/07

Wal-Mart is taking advantage of local customs to pinch pennies at a time when its Mexican operations have never been more profitable. Wal-Mart is Mexico's largest private-sector employer in the nation today, with nearly 150,000 local residents on its payroll. An additional 19,000 youngsters between the ages of 14 and 16 work after school in hundreds of Wal-Mart stores, mostly as grocery baggers, throughout Mexico-and none of them receives a red cent in wages or fringe benefits. The company doesn't try to conceal this practice: its 62 Superama supermarkets display blue signs with white letters that tell shoppers: OUR VOLUNTEER PACKERS COLLECT NO SALARY, ONLY THE GRATUITY THAT YOU GIVE THEM. SUPERAMA THANKS YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING. The use of unsalaried youths is legal in Mexico because the kids are said to be "volunteering" their services to Wal-Mart and are therefore not subject to the requirements and regulations that would otherwise apply under the country's labor laws. But some officials south of the U.S. border nonetheless view the practice as regrettable, if not downright exploitative. "These kids should receive a salary," says Labor Undersecretary Patricia Espinosa Torres. "If you ask me, I don't think these kids should be working, but there are cultural and social circumstances [in Mexico] rooted in poverty and scarcity." Federal District Labor Secretary Benito Miron Lince pointed out that "[i]n economic terms, Wal-Mart does have the capability to pay the minimum wage [of less than $5 a day], and this represents an injustice."

Certainly, Wal-Mart's bottom line is healthy. Wal-Mart de Mexico reported net earnings of $1.148 billion in 2006 and $280 million in profits in the second quarter of this year, a 7 percent increase in real terms over the same period last year. Buoyed by the handsome bottom-line results of the preceding 12 months, Wal-Mart de Mexico Chief Executive Eduardo Solórzano announced plans in February to add 125 new stores and restaurants to its existing network of 893 retail establishments during the course of 2007.

Then again, things could be a lot worse. In February 2005, Wal-Mart agreed to pay the U.S. Labor Department $135,540 in civil money penalties to settle charges of 24 child-labor violations. Some of the accusations involved minors who operated forklifts, chain saws and other potentially dangerous equipment. Stuffing groceries into plastic bags would seem considerably less hazardous.

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