Every time you read something good and green about Walmart, remember that they still pull shit like putting a bunch of poor Mexican kids to work for nothing.
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.”
Half of the population of Mexico lives on less than $4/day, so any job- even one for nothing an hour with the possibility of tips, is an attractive one. Wal-Mart is exploiting kids who already live on the bottom of life’s heap. They live in crappy houses in crappy neighborhoods and have to live their crappy lives every day on what I spend on buying a smoothee.
To be fair to Wal-Mart, they didn’t invent the practice of exploiting poor kids (that’s been going on for ages), but they sure are taking advantage of it. In Mexico City their two closest competitors “employ” 1,142 teens, Wal-Mart has 4,300 on their non-payroll.
It’s entirely legal because Wal-Mart and other corporations claim the teens are “volunteering” their services to Wal-Mart. The kids are doing it out of the kindness of their heart.
I’m all for Wal-Mart’s green efforts, which appear so far to be sincere and real. But let’s not forget that the prime motivating drive behind their green dream is a dollars and cents analysis that sees the massive cost savings down the road after they tighten up their efficiencies. Wal-Mart remains a cold and profit driven corporate behemoth that has no moral quandaries about exploiting people and communities in search of a fatter profit margin.