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Amazon, DoorDash, Walmart, trapping workers in poverty: UN rights expert

In separate letters to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, the UN-appointed independent expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, requested a response to reports of inadequate pay, aggressive union-busting tactics, and the misclassification of workers as “independent contractors”, intentionally depriving them of traditional employment benefits such as minimum wage guarantees.

Struggling to afford basics

“I am extremely disturbed that workers in some of the world’s most profitable companies – in one of the richest countries on earth – are struggling to afford to eat or pay their rent,” said Mr. De Schutter

“Multi-billion-dollar companies should be setting the standard for working conditions and wages, not violating the human rights of their workers by failing to pay them a decent wage,” he added.

‘Pathway out of poverty’

As outlined in a recent report to the UN on the rise of the “working poor”, being in a non-standard employment contract is a major cause of in-work poverty.

The Special Rapporteur also pointed to a United States Government report naming all three as among the top employers of Government medical and food assistance recipients.

“Jobs are supposed to provide a pathway out of poverty, yet in all three companies the business model seems to be to shift operating costs onto the public by relying on government benefits to supplement miserably low wages,” he said.

Aggressive union-busting

The ability of workers at Amazon and Walmart to negotiate higher wages is severely hampered by their employers’ aggressive union-busting activities, according to information received by Mr. De Schutter, with the companies spending millions of dollars to counter workers’ efforts to unionise.

“It appears that the US is turning a blind eye to the union-busting activities of its most powerful corporations, allowing them to steamroll workers into accepting poverty wages while corporate revenues soar,” lamented the expert.

The Special Rapporteur wrote to the US Government detailing the allegations and requesting information on its plans to address widespread in-work poverty in the country. 

 US lagging behind

“Around 6.3 million people are classified as working poor in the US, and the country falls drastically behind other high-income nations in terms of wage policies, worker protection and the right to organise,” he said.

“Businesses have a responsibility to respect internationally recognised human rights, including the right to a living wage and to join a union without fear of reprisal,” Mr. De Schutter said.

The expert asked for replies to his letters of 31 August within 60 days. To date, only Amazon has provided a response, although it does not fully address all the concerns expressed. There has been no response from the US Government, DoorDash or Walmart.

“The allegations against Amazon, DoorDash and Walmart would constitute flagrant violations of these rights and it is time for these corporations, and the US Government, to be held accountable,” he said.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work. 

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