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Amazon, DoorDash and Walmart are trapping workers in poverty: UN poverty expert

31 October 2023

GENEVA (31 October 2023) – A UN poverty expert today called on the CEOs of Amazon, DoorDash and Walmart to address allegations that wages at the US-based corporations are trapping workers in poverty and forcing them to rely on US Government benefits to survive.

“I am extremely disturbed that workers in some of the world's most profitable companies – in one of the richest countries on earth – are struggling to afford to eat or pay their rent,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“Multi-billion dollar companies should be setting the standard for working conditions and wages, not violating the human rights of their workers by failing to pay them a decent wage,” De Schutter said.

In separate letters to Amazon CEO Andy Jasey, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, the UN expert requested a response to reports of inadequate pay and the misclassification of workers as “independent contractors”, depriving them of traditional employment benefits such as minimum wage guarantees. As outlined in his recent report to the UN on the rise of the “working poor”, being in a non-standard employment contract is a major cause of in-work poverty.

The Special Rapporteur pointed to a US Government report naming all three as among the top employers of Government medical and food assistance recipients.

“Jobs are supposed to provide a pathway out of poverty, yet in all three companies the business model seems to be to shift operating costs onto the public by relying on government benefits to supplement miserably low wages,” he said.

The ability of workers at Amazon and Walmart to negotiate higher wages is severely hampered by their employers' aggressive union-busting activities, according to information received by De Schutter, with the companies spending millions of dollars to counter workers' efforts to unionise.

“It appears that the US is turning a blind eye to the union-busting activities of its most powerful corporations, allowing them to steamroll workers into accepting poverty wages while corporate revenues soar,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur wrote to the US Government detailing the allegations and requesting information on its plans to address the widespread in-work poverty in the country. “Around 6.3 million people are classified as working poor in the US, and the country falls drastically behind other high-income nations in terms of wage policies, worker protection and the right to organise,” he said.

“Businesses have a responsibility to respect internationally recognised human rights, including the right to a living wage and to join a union without fear of reprisal,” De Schutter said.

“The allegations against Amazon, DoorDash and Walmart would constitute flagrant violations of these rights and it is time for these corporations, and the US Government, to be held accountable,” he said.

The expert asked for replies to his letters of 31 August within 60 days. To date, only Amazon has provided a response, although it does not fully address all the concerns expressed. There has been no response from the US Government, DoorDash or Walmart.

Letter to Amazon

Letter to DoorDash

Letter to Walmart

Letter to the US Government

Response from Amazon

Mr. Olivier De Schutter (Belgium) has been the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since May 2020. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and is part of the Special Procedures, the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Sakshi Rai (+41 22 917 4258 / [email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow the Special Rapporteur: @srpoverty

Follow news related to the UN’s other independent human rights experts: @UN_SPExperts

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