WASHINGTON - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, will pay $135,540
to settle federal charges that it broke child labor laws, the Labor Department
(news - web sites) said Saturday.
The 24 violations, which occurred at stores in Arkansas, Connecticut and New
Hampshire, had to do with teenage workers who used hazardous equipment such
as a chain saw, paper balers and fork lifts.
Wal-Mart denied the allegations but agreed to pay the penalty. A spokeswoman
for the Bentonville, Ark., company said Wal-Mart was preparing a statement Saturday.
Child labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from operating hazardous equipment.
The company also agreed to comply with any provisions it violated — in
this case, child labor laws — in the future, said Victoria Lipnic, assistant
secretary for the department's Employment Standards Administration.
In the settlement, Wal-Mart also agreed to continue providing store managers
with training on child labor law compliance and provide new managers with similar
"This is a fairly standard thing to have an agreement like this,"
The settlement was signed by both sides on Jan. 11. An announcement was not
made before Saturday because the department was waiting for the settlement to
be paid in full within the 30-day period agreed to, Lipnic said.
The allegations, which occurred between 1998 and 2002, involved one case in
New Hampshire where a youth was using a chain saw to trim Christmas trees. A
majority of the cases in Connecticut involved children loading paper balers.
Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., was critical of the
provision that gives Wal-Mart 15 days notice before the Labor Department investigates
wage and hour accusations. He said it could give Wal-Mart the chance to sweep
violations under the rug.
"I don't know if the Department of Labor threw in the towel or whether
Wal-Mart put enough political pressure on them that they ended up with a sweetheart
deal," Miller said, adding that he will ask the department's inspector
general this week to review the agreement.
"I don't know if there's anything in Wal-Mart's background with regards
to allegations of violations of labor laws that would make any suggestion Wal-Mart
has earned the right for this kind of treatment," Miller said.
Wal-Mart has been the target of lawsuits accusing the company of bias against
women and not paying employees for all the hours they worked. Wal-Mart has vigorously
fought the court actions.
Wal-Mart is the world's largest company as measured by sales. At all its stores,
Wal-Mart sales reached $284.8 billion for the year ending Jan. 28.