The UN* special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on Tuesday called on the CEOs of Amazon, DoorDash, and Walmart to address allegations that wages at US-based companies are trapping workers in poverty and forcing them to rely on US government benefits to survive.
“I am deeply concerned that workers in some of the most profitable companies in the world, in one of the richest countries on the planet, find it difficult to eat or pay the rent”, stated Olivier De Schutter.
Employment is supposed to provide a route out of poverty, but in all three companies, the business model appears to pass operating costs on to the public.
“Multimillion-dollar companies should set the standard for working conditions and wages, not violate the human rights of their workers by not giving them decent wages,” he added.
State benefits to cover wages
In separate letters to Amazon CEO Andy Jasey, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, the expert demanded a response to reports of insufficient pay and the misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” which deprives them of traditional employment benefits, such as the minimum salary guarantee.
As you pointed out in your recent report on the rise of the “working poor,” having an atypical employment contract is one of the main causes of poverty at work.
The special rapporteur referred to a report from the United States Government in which these three companies were named among the Top Government Employers of Medical and Food Assistance Recipients.
“Employment should provide a route out of poverty, but in all three companies, the business model appears to pass operating costs on to the public, using state benefits to supplement low wages,” he said.
According to information received by De Schutter, the ability of Amazon and Walmart workers to negotiate higher wages has been severely hampered by aggressive anti-union activities by their employers, which will spend millions of dollars resisting the efforts of workers to unionize.
“It seems that the United States is turning a blind eye to the anti-union activities of its most powerful companies, allowing them to conquer the workers so that they accept poverty wages while the profits of the companies increase,” said the expert.
Right to a living wage and to join a union
The special rapporteur has written to the United States government detailing the allegations and requesting information on its plans to address the country’s widespread in-work poverty.
“About 6.3 million people are classified as working poor in the United States, and the country is far behind other high-income countries in terms of wage policies, worker protection, and the right to organize,” he said.
“Businesses have a responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights, including the right to a living wage and to join a union without fear of retaliation,” said De Schutter.
“The accusations against Amazon, DoorDash, and Walmart will include flagrant violations of these rights, and it’s time for these corporations and the United States government to be held accountable,” he said.
The expert requested responses to his August 31 letters within 60 days. So far, only Amazon has provided an answer, although it has not fully addressed all the concerns expressed. There has been no response from the US government, DoorDash, or Walmart.