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2005-07-04
Bentonville, AR. Wal-Mart Fires Factory Inspector For Sexual Affair

Wal-Mart has apparently come up with a creative way to get rid of a trouble-maker. Wal-Mart is being sued by one of its former employees who was in charge of inspecting their Third World factory suppliers. The worker, James Lynn, was fired by Wal-Mart for allegedly having an affair with a female subordinate. James Lynn was in charge of plant certification for all of Wal-Mart's direct factory suppliers in Latin America. He documented a consistent pattern of gross women's and human rights violations and harsh sweatshop conditions. In factories producing goods for Wal-Mart, Lynn found mandatory pregnancy testing, pat-downs, locked fire exits, workers fainting from excessive heat, forced overtime including 24-hour all-night shifts, filthy bathrooms lacking even toilet paper and soap, no clean drinking water, workers docked two to three days pay for taking a sick day, and an atmosphere of repression and fear in which workers knew that if they dared to speak the truth about factory conditions, they would be
immediately fired. Wal-Mart's factory certification visits had to be announced at least three days in advance, according to the National Labor Committee, which often translated into several weeks notification as travel plans had to be confirmed. Spot checks or surprise visits were not allowed. Wal-Mart monitors had to follow a strict script. They did not visit the factories at night or on holidays to see if the workers were being forced to work overtime. After 8 1/2 years of working for Wal-Mart, James Lynn was fired, for the ostensible reason of fraternization with a subordinate. Lynn says he was fired because he blew the whistle on factory conditions in Central America. Lynn's lawsuit is based on federal law which protects whistleblowers from retaliation. Lynn says he was terminated in 2002 ''for truthfully reporting the abysmal working conditions in Central American factories utilized by Wal-Mart and for refusing to comply with Wal-Mart's demand that he certify factories in order to get Wal-Mart's goods to market.'' Wal-Mart officials told the New York Times, ''This is not a whistle-blower case. It's not unusual for terminated associates at Wal-Mart or anywhere else to claim that they were fired for reasons other than the real misconduct. Mr. Lynn was terminated for having inappropriate contact with a woman who directly reported to him. We investigated this and when we presented it to him, both he and his subordinate admitted it. Both were fired." Lynn and the female employee steadfastly deny they were having an affair.

What you can do: Wouldn't it be great if Wal-Mart spent as much time "investigating" its factories as it did investigating its employees' sex lives? In this case, the company seems to have spent more time tracking down Lynn and his associate's activities than it did responding to Lynn's charges that Wal-Mart's factory inspection program was a sham. Wal-Mart deals directly with hundreds of factories throughout Latin America and Asia. Lynn was promoted from a local manager to being in charge of troubleshooting for Wal-Mart distribution centers in an entire region of the country. Then Wal-Mart offered him a position in Costa Rica overseeing factory certifications and Quality Control. At the time, Wal-Mart directly operated more than one hundred factories in the region, mostly in Honduras and Guatemala. A factory inspection report that Lynn conducted and recently provided to the National Labor Committee includes a negative evaluation of workplace environment. The report reads in part, "some exits are locked and not marked during the working hours. All exits need to be marked, unlocked and unblocked at all times. Ventilation in the factory needs improvement." While the factory improved many of its labor practices after an initial inspection, Lynn says his supervisor in Costa Rica downplayed noncompliance. In a letter a Wal-Mart senior executive, Lynn alleged that his supervisor "pressured inspectors to pass factories that have failed final inspections." Lynn says that factories inspections were often ineffective because managers were told about them beforehand. "Some of the workers I interviewed said, 'The factory had a general meeting the day before, and we were told, You better not say anything wrong or you're fired.'" In this case, Wal-Mart chose to shoot the messenger, and not deal with the message.










 
 
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