Recent labor news isn’t all bad for workers. McDonald’s, for example, decided in early 2015 to do more for those who can’t afford to live in its shadow. The iconic restaurant company announced that it would significantly boost wages for about 90,000 hourly employees in its company-owned outlets. Big-name firms like Target, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s have announced similar initiatives.
But keep this in mind: 90,000 wage-earners represent a small fraction of McDonald’s workforce. About 90 percent of its hourly employees work at franchised outlets, where wage policies are determined by franchisees and local laws. And millions of other hourly workers continue to live in poverty despite working full time — often at backbreaking jobs.
Depressed yet? It gets worse. These four well-known companies have all been implicated in corporate human rights violations in the recent past. And law firms known fighting for consumer protection aren’t just standing on the sidelines.
- Daewoo’s Uzbeki Cotton Secret
Cotton is a rare example of agricultural success in semi-arid Uzbekistan, an isolated land in the heart of the central Asian steppe. But it comes at a steep cost: Every harvest season, the country’s oligarchs turn thousands of impoverished workers out to the fields, often withholding pay until season’s end or failing to provide it at all. Much of the cotton ends up in the hands of well-known Korean firms like Daewoo; meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s rulers look the other way.
- Union Carbide/Dow Chemical and the Bhopal Disaster
One of the most horrifying industrial accidents the world has ever seen unfolded in Bhopal, India, in late 1984, when a Union Carbide factory sprang a massive cyanide gas leak near a heavily populated neighborhood. More than 20,000 people died in the ensuing carnage; at least 100,000 more were permanently disabled. Union Carbide paid out a paltry $570 to each affected family, then merged with Dow Chemical and claimed immunity from further suits. Bhopal still hasn’t fully recovered.
- Mystic Pizza Wage Theft: Julia Roberts Would Not Be Pleased
Mystic Pizza might not be a multinational energy or chemical company, but its pizzas are practically a household name in the United States. And its impossibly cute home office in an impossibly cute Connecticut village served as the backdrop, circa 1988, for the impossibly cute Julia Roberts film of the same name. Mystic Pizza is still riding off the success of that film, but apparently it’s not above nickel-and-diming hourly employees. The company recently settled a $105K wage theft lawsuit brought by about 100 current and former workers.
- Nestle Doesn’t Care How It Gets Its Chocolate
Making chocolate is a laborious, multi-step process. Extracting raw cacao, chocolate’s raw ingredient, requires deft knifework; even the most experienced hands suffer nasty wounds from time to time. In the early 2000s, watchdogs uncovered supply arrangements between Nestle and a nasty cohort of African cacao farmers who collectively kept hundreds of thousands of children (and sometimes their parents) in a form of indentured servitude, forcing them to perform their dangerous duties with little or no pay.
Do you know of any horrible corporate human rights abuses?