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Union Faults Wal-Mart on Port Safety

April 06, 2006|From Reuters

The nation's largest labor federation accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Wednesday of using its lobbying muscle to oppose port safety measures because they would reduce profit.

Through a lobbying group, the Retail Industry Leaders Assn., Wal-Mart opposed several port security measures including proposals to make shipping containers more secure, beef up inspections and provide more prompt cargo information, according to the AFL-CIO.

"Wal-Mart, America's largest importer, is using its clout to block new port security measures," the labor federation said in a report.

American seaports handle 2 billion tons of freight a year but only about 5% of containers entering the United States are inspected on arrival.

Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart's director of international corporate affairs, said the trade association's positions should not be taken as Wal-Mart's. The Bentonville, Ark.-based company has spent millions of dollars on improving port security, he said.

But in its new report, the AFL-CIO said Wal-Mart dominated the trade association and had used it as a front to push a legislative agenda it shares with other companies to block or weaken new port security measures.

The trade association cautioned Congress against requiring use of "smart containers" and electronic seals for cargo entering U.S. ports, fought efforts to require outside inspections of its members' supply-chain security claims and opposed container-handling fees to fund better port security, the report said.

Jonathan Gold, the association's vice president for global supply chain policy, said that Wal-Mart had no more influence over his group than any of its other 400 members. The association opposes smart containers, which have wireless sensors to monitor for signs of tampering, and electronic seals because the technologies are not completely reliable, he said.

Labor unions also have criticized Wal-Mart on its compensation policies, which the unions say trap thousands of workers in poverty and force many to rely on government aid.

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