Children protest outside Wal-Mart

Boston Globe

By Stephanie V. Siek

FRAMINGHAM -- A group of children protesting Wal-Mart's alleged use of sweatshop labor was asked to leave the store property yesterday after trying to present a store manager with a letter detailing its concerns.

''Don't make me ask the police to make them leave," said a Wal-Mart employee, identified by her nametag as Donna, as the group stood outside the store entrance.

The children and their escorts refused to leave until she or an assistant manager who was with her agreed to take the letter and send it to the company's chief executive officer, H. Lee Scott Jr. The employee went inside; a Framingham police car pulled up later.

An officer directed the protesters to leave the Wal-Mart property. They complied peacefully.

Wal-Mart employees declined the letter, but gave the group a telephone number and an address.

Sara Goldstein of Cambridge, 10, who had helped write the letter, said she never considered walking away without making an effort to give it to management.

''We weren't here to offer it to them, we were here to give it to them," she said.

The group was made up primarily of members of the Boston Workmen's Circle fifth-grade Jewish Sunday school class, with their parents and older and younger children. The principal, Mitchell Silver, said they had been learning about sweatshops and labor-rights issues as part of their lessons on the history of Jewish people in the United States.

About 150 people had gathered at the corner of the store's access road and Route 9. Some of the children held handmade posterboard signs that were bigger than they were. They chanted slogans, including, ''Come on Wal-Mart, don't delay, do what's right this holiday."

''This is the biggest and richest company in the world, and they're using sweatshops," said Owen Weitzman, a 10-year-old from Newton, as he held a sign reading, ''Stop Sweatshops . . . Give workers living wages. Don't hide under Bushes" and depicting a smiley face with fangs. ''I hope over a more longer period of time that sweatshops don't exist."

Lucian Cascino, a 10-year-old from Jamaica Plain, said that the children could have mailed the letter, but pairing it with a protest helped to ''make our point more important."

''It's not that we don't like Wal-Mart. We don't like what they do," he said. ''Basically, we're just here to get the message out: Stop shopping at Wal-Mart until they stop using sweatshop labor."

Bill Wertz, a company spokesman, said that it is not Wal-Mart's policy to sell products made in sweatshops. Wertz said the store is ''a target of a major campaign by union-based organizations to tarnish our reputation."

''We have a very active program in place to inspect factories and try to make sure that our standards are maintained. If poor workplace conditions exist, it is without our knowledge or approval," said Wertz. ''Wal-Mart has no factories of its own, but we do require our suppliers to follow a very strict code or set of standards."