An unprecedented move by the United Nations has put three of America’s largest corporations—Amazon, Walmart, and DoorDash—under the microscope for allegedly contributing to the plight of workers mired in poverty. Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, delivered a stern rebuke to the corporate giants, accusing them of paying wages so low that employees are ensnared in a cycle of poverty, effectively subsidized by taxpayer-funded welfare programs.
The incriminating evidence lies in a 2020 report by the US Government Accountability Office, which lists Amazon and Walmart among the top employers whose staff depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid in nine states surveyed. Walmart’s position at the top and Amazon’s sixth-place ranking underscore a grim reality for many American workers.
De Schutter’s concerns, delineated in letters made public on October 31, extend beyond inadequate pay. He highlights a spectrum of labor issues, including wage theft, unpredictable schedules, the treatment of undocumented workers, and systematic union suppression. The exploitation of legal loopholes, such as misclassifying workers as independent contractors, not only undermines employee rights but also imposes a moral reckoning for these corporations.
Amazon, under investigation by the Department of Labor for high injury rates and anti-union practices, was the only company to reply within the stipulated 60-day window. Their response, however, sidestepped several critical issues raised by De Schutter. While DoorDash has committed to a forthcoming reply, the debate over their gig worker pay model continues to stir controversy.
Walmart’s historic practice of quashing unionization efforts starkly contrasts with the immense wealth of its majority stakeholders—the Waltons. As the US Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies over 6.3 million Americans as ‘working poor’, the link between corporate profit and wage stagnation becomes painfully evident.
De Schutter’s findings resonate with a troubling trend: the steep decline of unionized labor in the US compared to other developed nations, suggesting a systemic weakening of the American worker’s bargaining power. The stagnant federal minimum wage, which has not seen an increase since 2009, along with the abysmal comparison of real wage growth to productivity over the past 40 years, paints a damning picture of the state of income equality in the United States.
In the face of such challenging conditions, the United Nations calls upon these corporations to rise above the minimum legal standards and become pacesetters for fair wages and equitable labor practices. The plea is clear: it’s time for multi-billion-dollar companies to lead by example and protect the human rights of their workers by ensuring they earn a living wage.