Teens at Work

Posted on August 5, 2007 

Teens at Work

Thousands of adolescents work as unpaid baggers in Wal-Mart’s Mexican stores. The retail giant isn’t breaking any laws—but that doesn’t mean the government is happy with the practice.

In a country where nearly half of the population scrapes by on less than $4 a day, any income source is welcome in millions of households, even if it hinges on the goodwill of a tipping customer. And Wal-Mart did not invent the bagger program that, as a written statement from the company notes, pre-dates the firm’s arrival in Mexico, nor is it alone within the country’s retail sector in benefiting from the toil of unpaid adolescents. But in Mexico City, for example, the 4,300 teenagers who work in Wal-Mart’s retail stores free of charge dwarf similar numbers laboring unpaid for Mexican competitors like Comercial Mexicana (715) and Gigante (427). Although Wal-Mart’s worldwide code of ethics expressly forbids any “associate” from working without compensation, the company’s Mexican subsidiary asserts that the grocery baggers “cannot be considered workers.” The Mexico City government’s top labor official dismisses that contention as so much corporate hogwash.

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