Walmart Uses 4,300 Unpaid Teenagers As Baggers In Its Mexican Stores

Walmart is Mexico’s largest private employer, according to Newsweek, and that doesn’t include the 4,300 unpaid teenagers that it lets “volunteer” to bag groceries at its Mexican stores.

The teenagers work for gratuities and Walmart says the teenagers “cannot be considered workers,” and are therefore exempt from Walmart’s “code of ethics” that prevents “associates” from going unpaid.

Meanwhile business is booming in Mexico for Walmart. They have plans to open 125 additional stores and “reported net earnings of $1.148 billion in 2006 ”

So why are the baggers going unpaid, relying only on gratuities? Local custom. From Newsweek:

The use of unsalaried youths is legal in Mexico because the kids are said to be “volunteering” their services to Wal-Mart and are therefore not subject to the requirements and regulations that would otherwise apply under the country’s labor laws. But some officials south of the U.S. border nonetheless view the practice as regrettable, if not downright exploitative. “These kids should receive a salary,” says Labor Undersecretary Patricia Espinosa Torres. “If you ask me, I don’t think these kids should be working, but there are cultural and social circumstances [in Mexico] rooted in poverty and scarcity.”

In a country where nearly half of the population scrapes by on less than $4 a day, any income source is welcome in millions of households, even if it hinges on the goodwill of a tipping customer. And Wal-Mart did not invent the bagger program that, as a written statement from the company notes, pre-dates the firm’s arrival in Mexico, nor is it alone within the country’s retail sector in benefiting from the toil of unpaid adolescents. But in Mexico City, for example, the 4,300 teenagers who work in Wal-Mart’s retail stores free of charge dwarf similar numbers laboring unpaid for Mexican competitors like Comercial Mexicana (715) and Gigante (427).

Can Walmart not afford the Mexican minimum wage? Newsweek says its less than $5 an hour. Just from a consumer’s perspective, we’d be annoyed at having to personally pay the wages of our grocery bagger, but obviously that is the cultural norm.

Teens at Work [Newsweek](Thanks, Molly!)
(Photo:Marco Ugarte/AP)

Comments

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  1. CreativeLinks says:

    Ok, am I wrong that I really don’t see a problem in this? My Wal Mart forces cashiers to not only ring me up, but also bag my items.

    Occasionally, they allow a local high school or someone who is raising money to bag for us for tips.

    Its not like they are replacing “workers” for free labor. They are just being more efficent.

  2. joeblevins says:

    I don’t see a problem here. This is a cultural issue. Yes Wal-mart is the devil. But… Things are different over there.

  3. Bye says:

    The class stratification in Mexico – especially around Mexico City – is so pronounced.

    Much as I’d like to bag on WalMart with regard to their baggers, the “volunteer” thing is very common down there. Many people are so desperate just to make a little bit of money that they’ll do anything. When I lived there, I always had young people fighting to bag my groceries and help me walk out with them when I went to Gigante.

    Who knows? Perhaps North American companies not working to at least elevate some of the workers by giving them a fair wage will become the norm. Perhaps this attitude will trickle northward and U.S. stores will eventually have scores of freelance car windowwashers in Target parking lots and cart-fetchers on contract. And don’t forget to tip the perfume-sprayer at Macy’s!

  4. balthisar says:

    The last thing I want to do is defend Wal-Mart. Really. It makes me feel as dirty as the inside of 90% of all the Wal-Marts I’ve ever had the displeasure of being in. (The Wal-Marts that I like are in Mexico!)

    Anyway, this is entirely a socially acceptable phenomenon, and it’s not limited just to children volunteers, but also to senior citizen volunteers. As said, it’s not just Wal-Mart, but huge mega-chains like Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, Aurera (Wal-Mart owned, incidently), and others. (As here, Sam’s and Costco don’t have baggers.) I’d have to guess that typical tips are significantly higher than the minimum wage in Mexico (which varies from region to region). It’s rare to see someone not tip at least part of the loose change they receive back if bagging is done. It’s typical that if you don’t want to tip, you bag your items yourself, but there are jerks out there.

    For what it’s worth, this is limited to big grocery stores (all Wal-Marts I know of are what we’d called “Super Wal-Marts” here in the ‘States, and hence are “grocery stores”). At Home Depot, the cashier was my bagger, as as Sears, J.C. Penny’s, and all of the other retail chains (Mexican and American).

  5. rbb says:

    No big deal. Every US military commissary uses unpaid baggers. Not a bad job because the tips are quite good.

  6. Hedgy2136 says:

    I know that in Army and Air Force commissaries, the baggers used to be unpaid and worked only for tips. I don’t know if that is the case any longer.

  7. Hedgy2136 says:

    @rbb: Sorry, you beat me to the punch. As I recall, the competition for those unpaid positions was quite fierce. If you wanted one of them, you almost literally had to wait for someone to die or move away and then work you way up the list.

  8. boandmichele says:

    @rbb: in a US military commissary perhaps, but i doubt they are substantial in mexico.

  9. zero_o says:

    Ok if half of the country scrapes by on less then $4.00 per day and the minimum wage is $5.00 per hour and the unemployment rate according to the CIA world factbook lists 3.2% plus underemployment of perhaps 25% (2006 est) where the hell is the money going that half of the population (“lives on less then $4.00 per day”) seem like that $4.00 per day figure is BS designed to illicit support and charity.

  10. raybury says:

    A similar article could be written about the U.S. cultural custom to pay full-service restaurant workers less than the “minimum wage,” and for them to make it up (and usually much more) in tips. No big deal.

  11. hi says:

    @Raybury

  12. Murph1908 says:

    I am going to have to side with the majority of responses here, even though it pains me as well to defend WalMart.

    If this is a culturally accepted practice, then trying to ‘fix it’ would only do more harm than good. Make WalMart pay them, and:

    1. There will be far fewer than 4300 teens on the payroll.

    2. They’ll probably make less money.

    3. WalMart doesn’t actually print money, so the cost of this initiative will be reflected in the price every customer is paying.

    Leave it alone. Next you’re going to call the ‘free car wash’ fund raisers around here illegal and exploitative.

  13. hi says:

    My ex-gf made ‘much more’ when working for tips at a restaurant, until tax time came around. Then she owed ‘much more’. She ended up in debt because she didn’t have the money to pay it. She was living check to check, and rent, food, gas, insurance, health issues all add up. So it’s not a big deal for some but it is to a lot of others.

  14. allstarecho says:

    This is why they all jumping the border. When we start punishing our own corporations, then illegal immigration will change.

  15. Hawk07 says:

    @Hedgy2136:
    I hate those baggers at the commissaries. I can bag my own damn groceries without their help. And then they give you funny looks if you don’t give them a large enough tip.

    I’m not stingy, I just don’t think that every other grocery store in my city bags for free except at the commissary. OTOH, when you go to a restaurant, you expect to give a tip b/c that’s the way it goes in every restaurant in America.

    Thankfully, those self-checkout machines are a godsend. Like I said, I can bag my own groceries in peace and for free.

  16. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Yup, I agree with the others. This is a cultural issue. We shouldn’t hold our standards against the standards of other countries. Nothing to see here, move along.

  17. Beerad says:

    Ah, globalization. Sure, it would be appalling if we did that here in America. But it’s okay – those people are totally USED to being poor! They’re so desperate for any money that we don’t even have to pay them because our customers will tip them for work we’d normally have to provide! It’s awesome!

  18. chstwnd says:

    well, I think the proper comparison here is to the “unpaid workers” that you find here in the states that run up to wash your car windows with gutter water and dirty rags. or spit, as I have actually seen before. WalMart doesn’t even employ designated baggers here, so I can only assume that these underprivileged waifs are really entrepreneurs, seeing a void and filling it at their own risk of profit loss. No obligation to the store….

  19. ultramalcolm says:

    This is not really another case of “Wal-Mart is the devil.” I am an American living in Mexico, and am as predisposed to hating Wal-Mart as everyone else…but they are held to a different standard, here, and are actually a much more responsible company abroad than they are at home. Workers receive benefits, fair trade with the local economy is at least considered, etc.

    With regard to the child volunteer baggers, this really does amount to a cultural issue, as has been previously stated. Every single large supermarket chain here operates under this system, and local shoppers are accustomed to it. I have yet to see a shopper neglect to give the bagger a few pesos. In fact, when they DO get shafted, it’s usually by visiting Americans who are more accustomed to the “rules” set by supermarkets in the States, many of which forbid tipping your bagger. Hell, I NEVER give the kid (often as young as 10 years old) less than about 50 cents. Spread that out over, say, 30 people passing through a checkout aisle in an hour? Not a bad hourly wage, certainly better than Wal-Mart would pay, and certainly enough to help out with the family’s expenses, which is often what these children are working for.

    In this case, forcing Wal-Mart to pay a wage lower than their workers would earn through a culture of tipping, seems to be detrimental both to Wal-Mart and their teeny volunteers.

  20. cde says:

    This happens in the spanish supermarkets in the US too. I’ve seen it recently and have done it years ago. Think of it this way…. It’s the kid’s entrepreneurial spirit at work.

  21. LTS! says:

    An attempt to bash Wal-mart.. defused. Moving on now…

    As everyone has says, first and foremost, this is a cultural situation and applying our norms to the situation is improper.

    Secondly, even if it wasn’t who cares? If they can find 4,300 teenagers to volunteer for tips why should they be to blame? If the 4,300 volunteers didn’t like it they could go get a different job.

    Hell, one might argue that because you don’t have to pay for the position that costs should be lower in the store which allows for the consumer to tip the volunteer for the appropriate level of service . Better service, better tip.. who loses?

  22. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @allstarecho: Yep. They wouldn’t want to move here so badly if they could get jobs that paid in their home country.

    I understand the dangers of ethnocentrism, but what would be the harm of trying out paid bagger positions to see if that made a difference in service or in poverty/unemployment rates? Would it destroy the unique beauty of Mexican culture and obliterate its history?

    Just because something is normal in another culture doesn’t mean it’s completely immune to questions or criticism, and it doesn’t mean everybody in that culture likes it. We shouldn’t assume that all traditions are good and valuable.

  23. bedofnails says:

    Internships.

  24. PhilK says:

    This is just standard bleeding heart blind help. Trying to help these people from the evil Wal-mart is going to go just like this.

    “Walmart, you can’t have unpaid baggers in your stores anymore.”
    “Ok.” *bans unpaid baggers from their store*

    Now instead of making tip money, they’re all unemployed! Nice work helping the little guy!

    Wal-mart didn’t go out into the streets, find a bunch of children, and chain them to the registers. Wal-mart set up a store, people saw a money making opportunity by feeding off of a larger animal, so they volunteered to bag things for tips. Wal-mart gets free labor, the people get jobs and income, everyone wins.

    What else should Wal-mart do? Pay them minimum wage? That’s probably less than tips.

  25. miguelggarcia says:

    Actually, minimum wage in Mexico is around $50.72 pesos a day, which translates in around $4.75 dollars/day of work.

    So, in Mexico, the minimum wage for a day is less than the minimum hourly wage in the U.S..

    As the article also notices, WalMart is not the only supermarket chain that does this; in fact, this is a common practice in the industry; and, true, they volunteer, a lot of them are students that go to work after school -kind of a “summer job”.

    I don’t see what the problem seems to be.

  26. Marce says:

    @rbb: Not to mention the signs that say “Baggers work for tips only.”

  27. abbamouse says:

    I did this as a teenager on Minot Air Force Base. We bagged groceries at the commisary and worked for tips only. It was probably sub-minimum wage (maybe $3 or $4 an hour, but it could be better or worse). Hey, if it’s good enough for the USAF it’s good enough for WalMart.

  28. miborovsky says:

    American hospitals do the same thing. Exploit hopeful med school entrants and use their free, skilled labor.

  29. andrewsmash says:

    As an American company, run by American businessmen, which brings its profits back into the States, I expect a higher level of basic morality. Company tactics like this are why Americans get so much negative press. We hold our own citizens to different standards when they are dealing with non-citizens. If Wal-Mart wants to act differently in other countries, they should create a local corporation in Mexico, run by Mexicans, that has a horizontal alliance with Wal-Mart USA. Of course, that would stop their larger shareholders from earning obscene amounts of money, and that would be wrong.

  30. Grendel_Khan_76 says:

    Meg needs to read the article a little better before she summarizes it. It states in the actual article that “…Wal-Mart does have the capability to pay the minimum wage [of less than $5 a day], and this represents an injustice.” It does not state it’s “…less than $5 an hour.” That’s right…$5 day, not $5 hour. So if you do the math, that is $150 a month to live on. Seriously.

    Oh and ZERO_O, you might also want to check out the original article before you go on a rant. That shouldn’t be too hard for someone who quotes the CIA world factbook.

  31. Skeptic says:

    BY CREATIVELINKS AT 10:34 AM

    Ok, am I wrong that I really don’t see a problem in this? My Wal Mart forces cashiers to not only ring me up, but also bag my items.

    Occasionally, they allow a local high school or someone who is raising money to bag for us for tips.

    Its not like they are replacing “workers” for free labor. They are just being more efficent.

    If you live in the US, I’d say it is wrong to use teenagers at Walmart for tips. In California it would certainly be illegal.

    You are wrong in thinking that Walmart is not replacing paid workers with free labor. By using teenagers to take over the bagging, the cashiers work faster and Walmart needs fewer cashiers. Thus Walmart is replacing cashiers with free labor–as if Walmart–the world’s largest private employer– is too poor to pay for minimum wage labor.

  32. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @zero_o: Dont forget the billions of dollars that illegals here in the US send back to thier families. I think I heard that Western Union sent over 4.5 billion from California alone to Mexico last year.

  33. nakmario says:

    As a Mexican I wish you Americans would stop bashing Wal Mart and focus your anger on your agricultural subsidies, which hurt the Mexican worker much more than Wal-mart does.

    Luckily you have selected Ethanol as a “renewable” source of energy so hopefully your damaging agricultural policies towards subsidizing large AgroCorps will have less of an effect as corn prices rise.

  34. balthisar says:

    @Skeptic:

    You are wrong in thinking that Walmart is not replacing paid workers with free labor. By using teenagers to take over the bagging, the cashiers work faster and Walmart needs fewer cashiers.

    Perhaps some of the other posters who indicate that they’re in Mexico will back me up when I attest that this isn’t true, and a result of these volunteer baggers is usually slower throughput because they’re young, inexperienced, and often lack the common sense on how to bag compared to a professional bagger (not a joke — didn’t some baggers union cripple California some time back??). Granted, that’s not all of the baggers, but it is enough of them that I though it would bear notice.

    Also while the story is meant to tug at your heart strings by mention those poor children, Wal-Mart and the other big chains also have volunteer old people (senior citizens). I wonder why that’s left out of the story?

  35. wring says:

    hey it keeps them off the streets/drugs/alcohol! what an awesome afterschool program!

  36. Lukeaduke says:

    @Marce: Our surprise may stem from the cultural difference, but that doesn’t make it right. A sign that states “Baggers work for tips only” doesn’t validate the practice. If a multinational corporation is benefiting from their labor (which they are), it’s their obligation to compensate them, not the consumer’s.

    We should be ashamed that we are searching for a reason to justify their exploitation on both sides of the border.

  37. FromThisSoil says:

    How about the cashier and customer bag their own stuff?

    You really don’t need an extra person in there anyway.

  38. crankymediaguy says:

    I would like to ask all the people here who are saying that Wal-Mart is only honoring a cultural tradition a question.

    Do you think for a moment that if Mexico’s “cultural tradition” was to pay baggers a higher-than-American-minimum-wage salary, Wal-Mart would honor it, since they’re such respecters of cultural norms and all?

    I think they’d shit can them as fast as humanly possible and go bag-it-yourself. Can we please stop being such marks for anything a huge corporation says in a press release?

  39. balthisar says:

    @crankymediaguy:

    Do you think for a moment that if Mexico’s “cultural tradition” was to pay baggers a higher-than-American-minimum-wage salary, Wal-Mart would honor it, since they’re such respecters of cultural norms and all?
    I think they’d shit can them as fast as humanly possible and go bag-it-yourself. Can we please stop being such marks for anything a huge corporation says in a press release?

    Well, no, I don’t think that would happen because there’s still competition there, and the competition would presumably be adhering to the cultural norm — that’s what makes it a cultural norm. I don’t go to the bag-it-yourself places here in the United States, either (other than the warehouse places). Most of the Mexican people would avoid Wal-Mart in the same vein.

    Keep in mind that most of the Wal-Mart shoppers (and other big grocery shoppers) are Mexico’s 30% middle class. Most of the rest shop at their local government-subsidezed stores or neighbor “supers,” which aren’t mega stores. Mexico’s middle class is a pretty proud group, and they wouldn’t bag it themselves if there’s another store that has baggers — either paid or volunteers.

    I speak not of having read a Wal-Mart press release, but of having lived (for work) multiple years in Mexico. It’s a system that works.

  40. TheUncleBob says:

    @Lukeaduke: “If a multinational corporation is benefiting from their labor (which they are), it’s their obligation to compensate them, not the consumer’s.”

    So, where does the labor’s wages come from when they are being paid? Some magic vortex that the multinational corporation pulls money out of?

  41. Sabrinita77 says:

    I’m from Mexico, I normally used to buy at wal mart, that is really dfferent to Wal mart in USA ( I live at US now) . The baggers thing is not only cultural. In fact is even considerbad service if the supermarket doesn’t have any baggers ..and no one wants the cashier to pack their things.. belive me. This kids apply for hundreds to this kind of jobs every single year they get a really big deal of money gien b the custumers and WM wouldn’t pay the same to them. Also if they were hired as teenagers they would have to be over 18 to be hired if not it would be illegal in mexico for them to work. and they also use people over 70 years also to help them as a program. Belive me this baggers are not misstreated. They get a really good deal. They also get discounts in the stores they work by the way and I have seen some of then really take advantage for them and their families on this. The article above.. I think speaks of a thing wrongly understood froma different culture point of view. Once I read it I even smile.. of how different this person might see it if she/he lived at Mexico for at least 2 years really trying to understand the culture and thinking of my country.

    :)

  42. minicoco says:

    There’s really nothing wrong here. I used to bag as a kid and the tips were actually pretty good. Spending a few hours talking to a hot cashier chick while picking up some bread and gently placing it in a plastic bag isn’t so tough.

    NOTE extra tips for carrying the bags to the customers car ;)

  43. minicoco says:

    @Sabrinita77:

    exactly

  44. Lukeaduke says:

    @TheUncleBob: Are you making the extraordinary assumption that this so-called “magic vortex” could in fact be the consumer? I believe that Wal-Mart would be able to put a price on the service that the bagger’s provide by looking to the increase in output at the checkout line.

    Great, so this is a system that works. If nothing else, with 4,300 volunteer baggers and more to come, Wal-Mart could view this as an opportunity to help improve upon the current employment dynamic for the benefit of the Mexican bagging class.

    There is a great deal of liquidity in Mexican financial markets, and the nation that gave us Carlos Slim certainly wouldn’t be hurt if it took a chance and provided a subtle increase in income where it’s deserved. Who knows, perhaps this might create economic stimulation that in turn would benefit Wal-Mart.

  45. craig610 says:

    It might be culturally acceptable for desperate people to work for tips only. Outside of the US (and inside) it’s also culturally acceptable to exploit people by way of sweat shops, slave shops, etc. It’s also culturally acceptable to pollute and destroy the environment in the name of cheap products. So, do we continue culturally acceptable practices just for it’s own sake, or introduce new progressive concepts, like wages? Given Wal-Mart’s record, it’s nothing more than free labor under the guise of helping. Yes, there is merit to the tips only system. But why not really help and give them a small wage as well? Actually raise the standard of living for the working class. That’s not Wal-Mart’s style. Their style is to keep em’ fed, but keep em’ poor. It’s exploitation of a poor desperate people who have culturally accepted being poor and desperate. I don’t blame the kids for working for tips only. It’s just the thought of an employer who can obviously afford to give something, doesn’t. I guess being exploited with a couple of bucks in your hand beats no money at all.