In the wake of a damning newspaper exposé that highlighted alleged abuses at Mexican agro-businesses that supply the U.S. market, Wal-Mart and the Mexican government announced on Thursday steps the world’s largest retailer is taking to improve the lives of farm workers.
Calling the move a "historic" alliance of produce industry groups, Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Enrique Martínez y Martínez said the government and the superstore will work to enforce wage laws and improve housing, schools and healthcare for the more than 1 million laborers at the farms that supply produce to U.S. markets.
The announcement comes soon after The Los Angeles Times published a series of stories following an 18-month investigation that revealed laborers were held in labor camps, many of which did not have beds, reliable water or adequate food supplies. In some camps, according to the Times, labor bosses illegally withheld workers' pay to stop them from leaving until the end of the harvest season.
"This effort is aimed at leveraging the work of a broader coalition to improve the lives of workers, including making it clear that Wal-Mart's standards do not tolerate working conditions as described in the L.A. Times," Wal-Mart said, according to The Los Angeles Times. "We do not want to work with suppliers unless they share this commitment."
Wal-Mart added that it wants to make sure the workers on the farms that supply its produce are treated with "respect and dignity" and that outside suppliers need to certify that they have visited "any new facility they plan to use for Wal-Mart production" and that the facilities meet company standards.
Along with Wal-Mart, the alliance in Mexico represents growers and distributors that handle 90 percent of Mexico's produce exports to the United States – an industry whose profits now exceed $7.5 billion a year.
"We're optimistic and encouraged that the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture … seems to be taking a leading role in the [alliance] by working closely with producers in Mexico," Wal-Mart said.
Wal-Mart’s business in Mexico was under fire for another reason last summer, when it was the New York Times reported that at least eight executives in Mexico, India and Betonville, Ark., have left the company since late 2011, when the newspaper launched its investigation into potential corruption violations by the company.
Wal-Mart is under federal investigation into whether they violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which makes it illegal for American companies to bribe foreign officials. In this case, the company is accused of bribing Mexican officials to speed up building permits and curry political favors. In a bid to build stores quickly, and win market dominance in Mexico, Wal-Mart de Mexico allegedly orchestrated their widespread bribery campaign that allowed superstores to be built on archeologically sensitive land and in areas widely opposed by residents.