South African workers protest against Massmart, Walmart’s South African business – By Mike Abrahams Walmart, in their refusal to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord aimed at addressing the poor labour conditions and risks of workers losing their lives, i …

South African workers protest against Massmart,  Walmart's South African business

South African workers protest against Massmart, Walmart’s South African business

– By Mike Abrahams

Walmart, in their refusal to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord aimed at addressing the poor labour conditions and risks of workers losing their lives, is nothing short of showing their bloody middle finger to the world.

While many global brands and retailers signed the Accord with global unions the absence of the world’s largest retailer and private employer’s name, Walmart, that is not on the Accord quite glaringly speaks volumes to the of kind of employer Walmart is and always has been.

This equally vindicates the opposition of SACCAWU, UFCW, COSATU and some COSATU as well as three Government Departments (EDD, DTI & Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries) to giving unconditional entry of a modern slave-driving and insensible super exploitative company, Walmart, onto our shores; compounded with their baggage of allegedly buying their way through, bribery and corrupting of some governments and governmental officials, no matter what; as had surfaced in Mexico and elsewhere.

Everything we argued in our opposition to the entry of Walmart into the local market is captured in this act; Walmart has no concern for workers lives. Scores of workers have already died in spate of factory fires before the tragic collapse of a factory in Bangladesh.

The latest incident, the collapse of a five-story factory saw more than a thousand and eleven workers dead, if not blatantly murdered due to profit greed of their employer who threatened their salaries if they were to respond to a health hazard warning to vacate the building; with evident signs of collapse. It took some global companies more than a thousand worker deaths in one incident to at last sign an Accord spearheaded by various global unions ( IndustriALL and UNI Global Union) and other labour rights campaigns; but so many lives lost is not enough in fact meaningless for the human insensitive Walmart.

UNI Global Union, to which SACCAWU is affiliated together with IndustriALL whose RSA affiliates are SACTWU, CEPPWAWU, NUM and NUMSA spearheaded the campaign to get all global brands companies sourcing products from place like Bangladesh to sign the Accord.

UNI Global have for years now campaigned for Walmart to sign a Global Framework Agreement committing themselves to the protection of minimum worker rights and as with the current Accord they still refuse.

This was one of the many concerns we raised during the court proceedings where we opposed the entry of Walmart into the local market.

In the meantime, according to the Sunday Times, here at home Walmart/Massmart had to recall the Chinese manufactured Mastercraft hydraulic jack.

According to the report more than half of the 13 400 defective jacks had already been sold at Makro, Builders Warehouse and Builders Express.

Such poor quality products sourced from low paid highly exploited and cheap labour with little concern for the conditions of workers at the supply end as they drive costs down and increase profits is what we warned against.

For us this is just the beginning of such incidents and as Walmart imports more products from their cheap labour sources; we will see more of such incidents.

This is already common in other parts of the world where Walmart has operations. According to recallowl.com a total number of 72 consumer products, including, household, recreational and children’s products have been recalled over the last few years, the overwhelming majority of manufactured in China.

While the Walmart website lists a further 25, mainly food and pharmaceutical products, recently recalled.

We are also aware that Walmart will do anything to get rid of unions in their workplaces, and closely keep our eye on developments here at home. Recently, still unconfirmed, we have received reports from workers that Walmart is trying to buy-out workers and re-employ them under new employment contracts, this in typical Walmart style is tantamount to unilateral restructuring in an attempt to weaken the union.

While investigating this matter, that is clearly and attempt to get rid of the Union to, like in other parts of the world, have a freehand in exploiting workers at will, we make it clear to Walmart, this will not be tolerated and we will deploy all our political and organisational muscle to stop any attempts to of union-bashing by them or any other employer.

One can’t help wondering what the Competition authorities are thinking now, including the Competitions Appeals Court judges that ruled in favour of Walmart entering the local market when they read that Walmart did not sign the Accord. One can’t help wondering whether they feel any complicity in the deaths of the hundreds dying in factory fires or of that more than a thousand, who died in the collapse of a factory.

One can’t help wondering what they will say about this recall by Walmart /Massmart. So too, do we wonder whether consumers who supposedly rejoiced, welcomed and embraced Walmart for alleged lower prices think about the poor working conditions, cheap labour and little worker rights and the many deaths of workers when they rush to scoop up another cheap, possibly sub-standard and defective product.

For us one worker’s recklessly lost life is one death too many.

We call on Walmart to sign the Accord, we call on Walmart to honour workers rights where ever they operate or source products from.

We equally call to all domestic retailers sourcing products elsewhere to as well sign the Labour Accord.

We also challenge our Government to like the Danish and Dutch Government form part of directing for the overwhelming support and compliance with the tenets and objectives of the Accord.

– Mike Abrahams is media officer for the South African retail union SACCAWU 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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