Wal-Mart Questions Motives Of Lawsuit by Labor Group

New York Times


Wal-Mart Stores issued its first response yesterday to a lawsuit that accuses it of allowing sweatshop conditions at overseas factories, saying that the labor rights group that filed the lawsuit on Tuesday had ''a history of presenting opinions as facts.''

After the group, the International Labor Rights Fund, filed the class-action suit in Los Angeles on behalf of employees for Wal-Mart contractors in China, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Swaziland and Indonesia, Wal-Mart said it needed to study the lawsuit before responding.

''We are a global leader in monitoring supplier factory conditions,'' Wal-Mart said yesterday, ''and if we find that any of our suppliers' factories are unwilling to correct problems, we end our relationship with them.''

Wal-Mart noted that the federal Department of Labor had found ''serious flaws'' in one of the fund's reports on labor conditions in Central America. The Washington-based labor rights fund vigorously opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush administration championed.

In the lawsuit, the overseas workers asserted that Wal-Mart had violated its contractual obligations to them by failing to ensure that the contractors they worked for complied with Wal-Mart's code of conduct. The lawsuit cited workers who said they were kicked and beaten, locked in factories, fired for supporting a union and not paid the minimum wage or overtime.

Saying that its 200 inspectors made 12,000 monitoring visits last year, Wal-Mart said: ''If a violation is observed, Wal-Mart works constructively with suppliers so their factories correct the problems. We discontinue business with them if they fail to change their practices.''

Wal-Mart said that the labor fund had ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers union and that the suit was an effort by the union to pressure Wal-Mart.

''We aggressively address problems and work proactively with suppliers' factories to improve conditions,'' Wal-Mart said. ''We believe sustainable results will come if we are able to convince suppliers and factories that compliance is an investment, not a cost.''