Wal-Mart suppliers face abuse accusations

From the Associated Press

Several Chinese suppliers of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fail to pay legally required wages or to provide proper working conditions, a Hong Kong-based labor group says.

China Labor Watch said a survey of 15 Wal-Mart suppliers found that some pay as little as half the minimum daily wage, require mandatory overtime or provide no health insurance. It said one company provided a single bathroom for 2,000 employees.

A spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said Friday that it was looking into the claims.

"We treat the issues as mentioned in this report seriously and will look into them. If found true, we will address them in an aggressive manner," Wal-Mart China spokesman Jonathan Dong said by e-mail.

He said he could not immediately confirm whether the companies named by China Labor Watch were Wal-Mart suppliers.

The group said its report was based on a survey of 169 employees at 15 companies.

It said some of them fined employees as much as one hour's pay for being one minute late to work, are overdue in paying back wages and have threatened to fire those who fail to work overtime.

Managers at two companies named in the report, issued this week, denied the accusations.

"We never owed wages to workers, and workers' wages are based on regulations," said Hu Tianfei, manager of Yongfeng Shoe Manufacturing Co.

He said the company had been a Wal-Mart supplier for 10 years.

All the companies named in the report are in the southern province of Guangdong, the site of thousands of small factories that supply China's export industries.

Wal-Mart is a prominent presence in China, with 68 stores and 36,000 employees. In 2004 the retailer bought $18 billion of Chinese goods directly or indirectly for sale abroad.

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