Wal-Mart audit finds thousands of labor violations; company downplays findings

Tuesday, January 13th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ An internal audit of about 25,000 workers at Wal-Mart Stores found thousands of labor violations, including minors working during school hours and workers not taking breaks or lunches, a newspaper reported.

The audit found 1,371 violations of child-labor laws, including minors working too late, too many hours in a day or during school hours. On more than 60,000 occasions, workers missed breaks and on 16,000 they skipped meal times, in violation of most state labor regulations.

The audit, conducted in July 2000 and distributed to top Wal-Mart executives, polled employee records at 128 stores across the country, the New York Times reported in Tuesday editions.

Wal-Mart officials downplayed the audit's findings, saying workers often forgot to punch in and out during breaks or skipped lunches so they could leave early.

The audit, by Wal-Mart auditor Bret Shipley, ``doesn't reflect actual behavior within the facilities,'' Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for communications, told the paper. The company had enacted no reforms in response to the report, she said, because other Wal-Mart auditors had reviewed Shipley's work and found it flawed.

But Wal-Mart critics said the audit revealed the company had sacrificed workers' rights in pursuit of profit.

``Their own analysis confirms that they have a pattern and practice of making their employees work through their breaks and lunch on a regular basis,'' James Finberg, a lawyer who has worked on several lawsuits against the company, told the Times. ``What this audit shows is against their own company policy and against the law in almost every state in which they operate.''

More than 40 lawsuits have accused the company of forcing employees to skip breaks and lunches, according to the Times. Wal-Mart has successfully petitioned courts to keep the audit sealed.

Wal-Mart employs 1.2 million people at 3,500 stores in the United States.