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2004-01-14
Portland, ME. Wal-Mart Child Labor Violations An Old Story

On January 13th, 2004, the New York Times ran a story about an internal audit that Wal-Mart commissioned which revealed that many of its workers who were minors were working too late into the night, or logging too many hours. This is not news to readers of Newsflash. Wal-Mart dismised the audit as "flawed and invalid." But just around the same time that this audit was being completed in July of 2000, Wal-Mart was in the news in Maine for nearly 1,500 child labor violations there. Our Newsflash column ran a story about numerous such violations of labor laws regarding minors in the state of Maine by Wal-Mart stores. On March 3, 2003, Newsflash reported that the Wal-Mart bust by the Maine Labor Department was the biggest case of its kind ever pursued in Maine. Wal-Mart was charged with 1,436 violations of state child labor laws, and the company was slapped with a $205,650 state fine. The violations took place between January of 1995 and June of 1998. The cases involved situations where Wal-Mart was using teenage labor to work too early or too late, or too many hours a week or too many days in a row. Wal-Mart said the company would do "constant monitoring" to prevent any more violations. The violations were found as a result of an audit in 1998 when one Wal-Mart store was found breaking the law. It was only by checking Wal-Mart's books that the violations were found. The Maine Labor Department has cited Wal-Mart for such violations for five years -- but usually issued no fines. One Assistant Attorney General in Maine said: "It's definitely not a sweatshop situation, but when you're looking at kids working those many hours, it can have a significant impact on their education." Maine has clear laws about how many hours kids can work on school days. 14 and 15 year olds can work 3 hours on a school day; 16 and 17 year olds can work 4 hours. These are all violations involving children under the age of 18. These same age groups are limited to 18 and 20 hours of work per week, respectively, during the school week. Maine officials found 1,436 violations at all 20 Wal-Marts in the state, so it was not just an isolated situation. All Wal-Marts were doing it, and local managers either did not know the law, or ignored it. Either way, Wal-Mart is not disputing the fine, which would have been enough to pay for nearly 32,000 hours of teenage work at Wal-Mart.



What you can do: The child labor violations in Maine were not mentioned in the NY Times article, but they stand out as another example of Wal-Mart attitude towards its own human resources. Perhaps this is just one more reason why you won't find Wal-Mart anywhere on Fortune magazine's 100 Best Places to Work.










 
 
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