Wal-Mart: Abuses outlined by L.A. Times 'have no place in our supply chain'

Wal-Mart issued the following statement describing its plans to help improve living conditions for Mexican farmworkers. The giant retailer said it was acting in response to a Los Angeles Times series, "Product of Mexico," published in December:

Wal-Mart is committed to the welfare of the people who work to produce products. The abuses outlined in the L.A. Times articles are unacceptable and have no place in our supply chain. We will not tolerate abuse of workers and our sourcing teams have been reinforcing this position with our Mexican produce suppliers since the articles were published. We will continue to educate our suppliers globally on our expectations.

Our Responsible Sourcing program is approaching the challenges inherent in a global supply chain in three ways:

· Standards

· Partnerships

· Audits

We constantly reexamine our efforts in all three areas to improve. On standards, since the L.A. Times articles were published we have reviewed our Standards for Suppliers to ensure that they clearly communicate our expectations regarding treating workers with respect and dignity. We do not want to work with suppliers unless they share this commitment. Since December, we have reinforced these standards with our internal buyers, since they have the greatest influence with current and potential suppliers. We have also made plans to publish additional materials about our standards and auditing, as additional public information and emphasis on our standards for suppliers will both educate and emphasize our commitment.

On auditing, our supplier audit program has been in place for more than a decade. In 2014, this program completed over 10,000 audits globally and more than 600 audits in Mexico. We will continue to use our audit program to verify compliance with our standards and help suppliers understand steps they can take to improve. Since December, we have taken steps to improve our audit program, including plans to increase supplier accountability by asking them to certify that they have visited any new facility they plan to use for Wal-Mart production and attest that, to the best of their knowledge, the facility operates consistently with our Standards.

We realize that good systems to get visibility and traceability in our supply chain are an important part of an effective audit program. We are making significant investments in our global systems to enable us to get better visibility into the facilities that produce products for sale at Wal-Mart.

Our audit program is one way that we seek to ensure compliance with our standards, but it’s not the only way. By engaging Mexican suppliers over the long run and by working together with buyers and suppliers, we are able to use our business as leverage to bring about meaningful change.

We realize that the problems that you have identified in your articles are industry-wide and not specific to any one company. Accordingly, since December we have assigned a team that includes some of our most senior executives to examine ways that we can partner with others in the U.S. and Mexico to improve conditions beyond our auditing program. In addition, senior leaders from our global food sourcing and responsible sourcing teams will attend a series of meetings with suppliers and other key Mexican stakeholders, including those involved with the grower-led Alianza Internacional del Sector Hortofrutícola para el Fomento de una Industria Socialmente Responsable.

This effort is aimed at leveraging the work of a broader coalition to improve the lives of workers, including making it clear that Wal-Mart’s standards do not tolerate working conditions as described in the L.A. Times. We will also lead discussions around building capacity in the facilities from which our suppliers source.

We are very supportive of the Alianza. The Alianza growers and producers are actively promoting social responsibility in the fresh produce sector. While no U.S. retailers or manufacturers have so far been invited to join the Alianza, we have expressed our interest in contributing to this important effort.

Similarly, in the U.S, we are collaborating with our industry partners such as the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and other U.S. retailers to identify ways to make a difference in labor conditions in Mexico.

We’re optimistic and encouraged that the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA) seems to be taking a leading role in the Alianza by working closely with producers in Mexico. The Ministry’s involvement is vital to making progress in this area and we will appropriately encourage and support their engagement.

More about Wal-Mart's announcement: Mexico and Wal-Mart launch initiative to improve lives of farmworkers

Read the series: Product of Mexico

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