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Apple Inc. has been under fire recently for working conditions in Chinese factories responsible for producing iPads and iPhones. But did you know that warehouse conditions in the United States may rival those found overseas?
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of warehouse workers in a Southern California distribution center accuses three companies of falsifying pay records and forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions. The main defendant is Schneider Logistics, which handles Walmart goods.
Do you know where your products come from?
If you don't, you may want to think about it. Abusive warehouse conditions are a widespread problem, according to FairWarning, a nonprofit that focuses on safety and corporate conduct. Regulators and lawyers have heard complaints from employees that work in Southern California, Chicago and New Jersey, the largest distribution hubs in the country.
At Schneider's Riverside location, employees claim they were made to sign blank timesheets. Supervisors would then understate hours to hide the warehouse's practice of paying below minimum wage. Threats were common towards anyone who complained or tried to unionize, reports the nonprofit.
Cal/OSHA investigators also responded to safety complaints in January. They found more than 60 violations and have ordered the company to pay a fine.
Walmart and other retailers are not implicated in any of these suits because they are not directly responsible for warehouse conditions or employees. They contract with companies like Schneider Logistics. These companies then contract with staffing firms. There are several layers that protect retailers from any legal liability.
This doesn't necessarily mean that Walmart -- or you -- is not responsible for abusive warehouse conditions. What would your customers say if they knew where your products come from? Do you have a moral obligation to demand law-abiding behavior from your distributors?