NBC’s Today Show Repeats Anti-EFCA Falsehoods, Relies on Anti-Union Wal-Mart CEO for Analysis

Wal-Mart Opposes the EFCA

NBC’s Today show is the latest media outlet to include reporting that distorts the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by relying on falsehoods touted by the bill’s opponents.

The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) issued a media alert on Tuesday about a segment in which Today show host Matt Lauer repeated falsehoods about the EFCA:

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would make it easier for workers to form unions by increasing penalties for employers who violate workers’ right to organize, and by giving workers the right to form a union if a majority signs cards declaring they want one–the so-called “card check” provision.

NBC’s Lauer declared that EFCA “would do away with secret ballots.” This is inaccurate; under the proposed law, workers would still have the right to vote in a National Labor Review Board (NLRB) “secret ballot” election if 30 percent of the workforce signs cards, just as they do now. Under current law, employers rather than workers get to decide whether unionization requires a card check or a vote. The false claim that EFCA would eliminate secret ballots has been a major talking point of anti-EFCA campaigners.

After this, Lauer asked the Wal-Mart CEO what he thought about the EFCA. Not surprisingly, the Wal-Mart CEO said it is “really one of those bills that would be damaging to the American economy long-term.”

Back in 2008, Wal-Mart–anticipating the likely election of a Democratic president–began forcing its employees to attend meetings that argued against the EFCA

Wal-Mart acknowledges that it summoned employees around the country to warn them about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize companies if more than half the workers signed cards agreeing to join, dispensing with the need for a secret ballot.

Wal-Mart is an incredibly anti-union company and has violated labor laws numerous times in recent years. Wal-Mart has even gone so far as to close stores rather than see them unionized. It’s no surprise that they would actively campaign against the act. Nor is it a surprise that NBC–which is owned by General Electric–would give them a platform to promote these views, as media coverage of the Employee Free Choice Act has repeatedly emphasized business voices over labor voices.

Wal-Mart Sweatshop Workers Tour at GVSU

On Wednesday, the Wal-Mart Sweatshop Workers Tour stopped at GVSU. It offered those in attendance a rare opportunity to hear about working conditions in factories supplying food and clothing to Wal-Mart.

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On Wednesday, the “Wal-Mart Sweatshop Workers Speaking Tour“–featuring two workers who supply clothing and food sold at Wal-Mart–stopped in West Michigan at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). The West Michigan stop is part of a larger tour of the Midwest that brought two workers–one from Costa Rica and one from Cambodia–to build support for Michigan and Ohio to join the State and Local Government Sweatfree Consortium. The tour focuses on Wal-Mart because they are the biggest retail store in the United States and as such are the largest user of sweatshop labor. Overall, it offered valuable insight into both conditions in sweatshops and some ways in which they can be challenged.

The first speaker, Didier Lifton, is a union organizer from Costa Rica. He worked on banana plantations for several years before being fired for union organizing in 2000. Since that time, he has observed working conditions on banana plantations across the country and has found that conditions are extremely bad. Workers are paid low wages (below the Costa Rican minimum wage of $280 per month) and are exposed to a variety of hazards including sun and poisonous chemicals. Even when workers do get the minimum wage–which is rare–it often covers only 50% of the necessities (food, shelter, clothing) needed. In addition to the banana plantations, he also said that conditions are similar on pineapple plantations and that pineapple plantations–in part due to growing demand from Wal-Mart–are increasing. Lifton told the audience that this has meant increased deforestation and that he has witnessed a company clearing 100,000 acres in a year.

Phal Savin spoke next and told of her work in Cambodia sewing clothing for Wal-Mart and her firing for union organizing. Her story was similar to Lifton’s, telling the audience of wages that could not cover the basic necessities of life and intimidation tactics used to dissuade workers from organizing to improve their conditions. Savin told the audience that workers at her factory were frequently forced to work overtime when there were orders, and that when there were not orders, workers were sent home early resulting in inconsistent wages. She said that she could make anywhere from $15-$25 per month and that she was basically treated like a slave. She said that while Wal-Mart does theoretically do audits of working conditions and pay at its factories, the owners control what the auditors see and only allow them to speak to friendly workers.

Finally, a representative of Sweat Free Communities spoke about the need for people in the United States to take action. She urged people to “shop with a conscience” but also spoke about the need to get active in organized struggles. She urged the audience to become a part of a campaign to get Michigan to join the Sweatfree Consortium. The Consortium is a policy designed to insure that government procurement orders are filled via factories that are not sweatshops. The campaign says that many governments–including Michigan who spends $40 million per year on boots and uniforms–are subsidizing sweatshops.

Report Critiques Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Initiatives

Wal-Mart, who announced in 2005 a number of “sustainability initiatives” ranging from increased wages to measures aimed at curbing the company’s carbon emissions, is the target of a new report titled “Wal-Mart’s: Sustainability Initiative: A Civil Society Critique.” In that report, twenty-three environmental, farm, labor, and human rights groups charge that even if Wal-Mart meets its two-year old sustainability goals, its business model is inherently unsustainable. The report asks “Can a company claim to be “sustainable” when it drives down wages, refuses wages to some 20,000 minors working in its Mexican stores, pays unsustainably low prices to its suppliers (leading to sweatshop conditions), drives local stores and markets out of business, and disregards the wishes of the communities where it establishes its stores?”

The report’s key findings:

CRITIQUES OF WAL-MART’S SUSTAINABILITY COMMITMENTS

Organics: Although the company announced plans to expand organic products, the Cornucopia Institute has documented incidents of Wal-Mart misrepresenting conventional food products as organics and charges that the company has attempted to drive down organic prices by using factory farm products of questionable quality, including some from China and other countries where regulations are weak.

Sustainable Seafood: Wal-Mart has committed to selling only sustainable seafood in North America. However, according to Food and Water Watch, the certification program that Wal-Mart is using, the Marine Stewardship Council, has a record of accrediting fisheries with poor environmental records. Moreover, Food and Water Watch questions whether it is even possible to source seafood sustainably on the massive scale required by the world’s largest retailer.

Shrimp: Wal-Mart has committed to selling only sustainably farmed imported shrimp. The certification process will rely on weak standards developed without input from communities affected by the industry’s destruction of mangroves and other wetlands. Moreover, according to the Mangrove Action Project, enforcement is likely to be weak because third party reviewers are not truly independent.

Illegal Logging: Wal-Mart claims that it will remove illegal wood products from its supply chain. But the Environmental Investigation Agency charges that the company has failed to monitor its suppliers adequately. Moreover, Wal-Mart’s constant demand of decreased prices from its suppliers drives illegal logging, and some 47 percent of Wal-Mart’s wood-containing products are manufactured in China, which sources from countries known to have major problems with illegal logging.

Paper and Paper Packaging: Wal-Mart has committed to reduce its paper packaging, but has not taken important steps forward like endorsing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Due to the major environmental impact of logging and paper production, it is important for Wal-Mart to establish stringent standards for its suppliers.

Cypress Mulch: Wal-Mart is fueling the destruction of cypress forests, the Gulf Coast’s best natural storm and flooding protection, by distributing cypress mulch throughout the

country. Wal-Mart was proud of their relief work after Hurricane Katrina, but now the company is endangering coastal communities and important wildlife along the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Restoration Network and the Save Our Cypress Coalition are working to convince Wal-Mart to drop this unsustainable product.

Toxic Toys: Wal-Mart has committed to phasing out PVC plastic in packaging and some products and last year announced plans to restrict some of the most toxic chemicals from their products. However, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, the company has not committed to eliminating toys made with phthalates and PVC plastic, despite the availability of safer alternatives.

CRITIQUES OF WAL-MART’S UNSUSTAINABLE MODEL

Global Warming: Wal-Mart’s goals for reducing global warming pollution leave many sources of greenhouse gases off the table. According to the Institute for Policy Studies and Friends of the Earth, the company’s supply chain creates more than 40 times the emissions the firm says it is aiming to eliminate. Combined with emissions from its retail operations, Wal-Mart’s greenhouse gases are the equivalent of about half the amount produced annually by France. Wal-Mart’s “cheap” imports are not cheap if you consider the estimated 2 million tons of annual carbon emissions associated with shipping from China to U.S. ports, pollution from inefficient non-U.S. trucking fleets, and the health impacts of port pollution on local communities. Wal-Mart’s contribution to sprawl has increased shopping travel to the point where traffic associated with its stores produces more carbon dioxide than all of its other U.S. greenhouse gas emissions combined.

Slashing Costs to the Bone: Wal-Mart’s CEO claims his vision for sustainability goes beyond green products to “people who live sustainable lives.” In reality, the company continues to squeeze workers and suppliers in a global “race to the bottom” in wages, benefits and working conditions. WakeUpWalMart.com charges that that no company has done more to feed our nation’s health care crisis, while American Rights at Work exposes the company’s aggressive interference with worker rights to form unions. On the international front, the International Labor Rights Forum, STITCH, ActionAid International USA, and Agribusiness Accountability Initiative document how Wal-Mart has used its market power to cut costs at the expense of workers and producers in the developing world. Food and Water Watch discuss the impacts on consumer safety as a byproduct of an unchecked food supply.

Undermining Communities: Wal-Mart’s massive scale undermines the independent businesses that form the fabric of healthy, sustainable communities. And despite the company’s claims to the contrary, numerous studies indicate that Wal-Mart destroys more jobs than it creates. Global Exchange and Centro de Investigacion Laboral y Asesoria Sindical (CILAS) look at how the company has hurt communities, jobs and the environment in Mexico, where it is also the leading retailer. Jobs with Justice and the American Independent Business Alliance share first-hand accounts of community impacts and resistance, while Good Jobs First documents how Wal-Mart has strained communities by pocketing massive subsidies – at least $1.2 billion to date.

Distorting Democracy: Wal-Mart has used its massive political clout to support an anti-sustainability agenda in the U.S. Congress. According to Corporate Ethics International, two-thirds of the company PAC’s campaign contributions in the last election went to candidates who earned failing grades from the League of Conservation Voters.