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Facing Down Goliath

June 22, 2006

The largest sex discrimination class action lawsuit in U.S. history.  Workers clamoring for fair and affordable healthcare. Community protests against Supercenters. In the battle to preserve its public image, Wal-Mart has had a rough few years. The newly launched MisFortune500 campaign plans to make it even rougher. MisFortune500, a spin on Fortune Magazine’s annual ranking of the nation’s 500 largest corporations, promotes corporate accountability and exposes violations of women’s human rights by members of the Fortune 500 or its offshoot, the Global 500. Wal-Mart tops Fortune’s Global 500. It was bumped from number one on the Fortune 500 by Exxon Mobil, which also makes the MisFortune500 list.  At the MisFortune500 website (www.misfortune500.org), created by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), you learn that of the world’s 100 largest economies, corporations outnumber countries 52 to 48. You discover that while women do two-thirds of the world’s work, they earn just 10% of the world’s income.   “Too much power is concentrated in the hands of corporations with economies bigger than many of the countries they operate in,” says WEDO’s June Zeitlin, executive director of the New York-based international women’s rights organization. “Their profits depend on women’s low-wage, low-skilled positions, but the impact on women is not documented.” Until now.     MisFortune500’s company profiles provide statistics (59.6% of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees are women); a breakdown of the company’s alleged misconduct (maternity/pregnancy discrimination, union-busting, and sexual harassment in Wal-Mart’s case); and links to media coverage (“What Do Wal-Mart’s Low Prices Mean for Women Globally?”), advocates (Wal-Mart Watch) and Take Action initiatives (the class action suit for Wal-Mart’s female employees). It also reports on the companies’ programmatic and verbal responses to criticism of their human rights and environmental practices. While Wal-Mart may be the best-known example, WEDO found no shortage of companies to spotlight. In addition to Exxon Mobil, such well-known corporations as McDonald’s, Gap, and several multinational financial institutions make the list. As an antidote, the site also provides links to information about good corporate practices for women employees. Zeitlin expects that MisFortune500’s systematic documentation of corporate abuse will help build public pressure for national legislative action and global pressure to hold corporations accountable. Only then will the world's women workers begin to realize decent working conditions in the world of ever-expanding global capitalism.
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