Retail giant suspends CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana as activists protest against working conditions in other Walmart suppliers
Walmart has suspended a seafood supplier following complaints from workers at the plant that they were forced to work 24 hours at a time and had threats of violence directed at their families.
In a statement, Walmart said a preliminary investigation uncovered “violations” at CJ’s Seafood in Louisiana, where eight Mexican employees had complained of being mistreated by their bosses.
It follows an independent report which described conditions at Louisiana food processing plant as “rivalling any sweatshop in China or Bangladesh”. It also comes as activists in New York were due to stage a 24-hour fast to protest against unsatisfactory labour conditions at some Walmart suppliers.
On Friday, the National Guestworker Alliance cited 12 other factories in the Walmart supply chain for allegedly violating working conditions.
Over the weekend, members of the pressure group are to join striking employees of CJ’s Seafood at a 24-hour fast outside the Manhattan apartment of Walmart board member Michelle Burns.
The workers say they were locked inside the crawfish processing plant during periods of peak demand for sometimes 24 hours at a time. Their families in Mexico were threatened, according to one worker, while they were warned they faced deportation if they did not acquiesce to their employer’s demands.
Ana Diaz, who had travelled from her home in north-east Mexico to work at the Louisiana seafood plant, told the Guardian earlier this month: “On two occasions they locked the doors so we couldn’t take breaks because they wanted us to produce the crawfish in a shorter time.”
One supervisor told her that if workers took breaks, he would lose a lot of money.
“We were afraid because he knows where many of us live. He knows where our family members live; he has our addresses and information. That’s when we felt the most locked in and the most abused,” Diaz said.
CJ’s Seafood did not respond to requests for comment.
Diaz is one of eight employees currently striking over conditions at CJ’s.
The group, with the support of National Guestworker Alliance, has lodged a complaint with the wage and hour division of the US department of labour, claiming that the company violated the fair labour standards act by failing to pay overtime and failed to keep accurate records as required by the act and by employers of workers on H2-B visas.
Separately, the workers have filed a charge of discrimination with the equal employment opportunity commission – the first step in the process of bringing a discrimination lawsuit against an employer.
The complaint alleges that the eight were discriminated against on the basis of race, colour, national origin and retaliation, stating that Latino workers “are forced to work longer and less desirable hours” than other people of colour, and alleging that the workers were not paid “according to the terms of their contract”.
Walmart said it acted as soon as it heard of the allegations against its suppliers.
Lorenzo Lopez, a spokesman for the retail giant, said officials were on site within a week to conduct a preliminary investigation.
“While we were unable to complete a full investigation at that time, we did uncover violations of some supplier standards.”
Lopez added: “We have suspended CJ’s Seafood as a supplier, pending the outcome of the investigation.”
But Walmart’s actions do not go far enough, according to Stephen Boykewich of the National Guestworkers Alliance.
“We do not need another investigation by Walmart. They need to end the contract with CJ’s and meet with its workers,” he said.
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