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Aditi Nigam

Uncle Sam’s misplaced anger

| Updated on December 20, 2013 Published on December 20, 2013

Two recent reports released in the US show that the federal government has been routinely ignoring worker safety and labour law violations when awarding contracts to private companies.

The US of A’s indignation over an Indian diplomat ‘violating’ the country’s labour norms is touching, to say the least. How one wished the world’s greatest superpower looked a wee bit inward and dealt with some of its very own corporates as firmly as it did with the lady.

For, a mere ‘strip search’ and ‘cavity search’ of some corporate cash boxes in the US will show that despite violating labour norms, companies are being routinely showered with US government contracts.

According to two recent reports released in the US, the federal government has been routinely ignoring worker safety and labour law violations when awarding contracts to private companies.

An article on public affairs website, In These Times, quotes a report from the staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee, which gives out a long list of specific companies that break safety and labour laws yet continue to receive big government contracts.

“In particular, >it names 49 law-breaking contractors that got more than $81 billion from Uncle Sam in 2012 alone—including AT&T, Home Depot and GM,” says the article by Bruce Vail, a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Another report by the Center For American Progress, a Democratic Party advocacy group, found that a number of companies, including Lockheed Martin and KBR, short-change taxpayers through poor performance.

The reports also analysed the records on wage-and-hour law violations and unearthed many household names from the Department of Labor records of firms who were obliged to make back wage payments to workers for legal violations.

Among these are Hewlett-Packard Co., AT&T, General Dynamics, Nestle S.A., Lockheed Martin Corp., Cerberus Capital Management, and Home Depot Inc. A big group of these corporate offenders received Government contracts worth billions, the reports say.

For instance, the HELP report, which called for special scrutiny before any new contracts are awarded, came up with names of Sprint Nextel Corp, UnitedHealth Group, Marriott International, C&S Wholesalers Inc., Acosta Inc. and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as examples of contractors already assessed for “severe and repeated” violations of labour law.

Together, these six companies received about $470 million in federal contracts in 2012 alone, the report said. Labour organisations across the world, including India, have been long struggling to get Governments to do the least -- implement laws already in force – especially as big corporates set up manufacturing facilities in poorer countries to cut costs and employ cheap contractual labour.

In a world where workers are increasingly turning into cannon fodder for big corporates, who continue to bag big Government contracts, the recent crack-down’ by the US on a lady diplomat over ‘wage violation’ is indeed laughable.

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Published on December 20, 2013
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