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US: Union says Wal-Mart opposed better US port security

by Peter SzekelyReuters
April 5th, 2006

The largest U.S. labor federation accused Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Wednesday of using its lobbying muscle to oppose port safety measures because they would reduce profits.

Through its lobbying group, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), Wal-Mart opposed several port security measures, including proposals to make shipping containers more secure, to beef up inspections and to provide more prompt cargo information, according to the AFL-CIO.

"Wal-Mart, America's largest importer, is using its clout to block new port security measures," the labor federation said in a report, "Unchecked: How Wal-Mart Uses It's Might to Block Port Security."

The report follows a national port security flap last month that forced a United Arab Emirates-owned company to pull out of a deal to manage terminals at six U.S. ports.

The controversy also revived criticism of efforts to better secure U.S. ports and cargo headed for America's shores. U.S. seaports handle 2 billion tons of freight each year but only about 5 percent of containers entering the United States are inspected on arrival.

Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart's director of international corporate affairs, said positions taken by RILA should not be represented as Wal-Mart's. He said Wal-Mart has spent millions of dollars on improving port security.

"The notion that we are opposed to improved port security is preposterous," said Wertz.

Labor unions have also criticized Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer whose stores are not unionized, mostly over its compensation policies, which they say are trapping thousands workers in poverty and forcing many to rely on government aid.

But in its new report, the AFL-CIO details legislative moves it says Wal-Mart made through RILA since the September 11 attacks to oppose port and supply-chain security rules that could reduce its profits.

"Wal-Mart and its Washington allies repeatedly put their profits ahead of America's security," said the report.

The report said Wal-Mart dominates RILA and has used it as a front to push a legislative agenda it shares with other companies to block or water down new port security measures.

RILA cautioned Congress against requiring use of "smart containers" and "electronic seals" for cargo entering U.S. ports, fought off efforts to require outside inspections of its members' supply-chain security claims and opposed a requirement to give U.S. customs officials 24-hour notice before loading U.S.-bound cargo on ships, the AFL-CIO said.

It also lobbied to defeat a Senate proposal for new container-handling fees to fund better port security, it said.

The report recommends using "electronic seals" on inbound containers, more physical inspections of containers, screening of all cargo and independent investigations of security measures importers claim to use in their supply chains.

Since the September 11 attacks Wal-Mart has given $182,000 in campaign contributions to 22 of the 33 current members of the House Homeland Security Committee, most of it to Republicans, the AFL-CIO said, citing U.S. government data.

Wal-Mart was the third largest corporate campaign contributor in 2003-04, giving $2.7 million to candidates for national office, it said.



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