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US union lent a hand in Walmart battle

A US union paid legal fees for a local union to fight US retail giant Walmart’s acquisition of local retailer Massmart, according to a report on Wednesday.

The United Food and Commercial Workers’ International Union paid about R3.1-million in legal fees to help the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) keep Walmart out of South Africa, Business Day reported.

This was revealed in the United Food and Commercial Workers’ International Union’s financial disclosure report to the US labour department.

Business Day reported that Michael Bride, US-based deputy organising director for global strategies of the international union, said it had made the investment to show “its commitment to South Africa”.

“We do not believe Walmart’s dismal labour relations record should go unnoticed. We are committed to citizens all over the world, wherever Walmart may operate,” he reportedly said.

‘Legal services’
The union made two payments to South African law firm Cheadle Thompson and Haysom last year for “organising legal services”.

This was used to help Saccawu appeal a decision by the Competition Tribunal to give Walmart the go-ahead to take a R16.5-billion controlling stake in Walmart in May.

Massmart spokesperson Brian Leroni told the newspaper that the retailer had discovered early in the merger approval process that the US union appeared to be “taking advantage of the favourable industrial relations environment in South Africa to advance their agenda in partnership with local unions”.

On Tuesday, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said the government had spent about R4.1-million challenging the Walmart-Massmart merger.

The government participated in the Competition Tribunal proceedings.

Under review
After the tribunal approved the merger, subject to certain conditions, the government applied to the Competition Appeal Court to review the decision.

It asked to be party to the appeal launched by Saccawu, on the basis of both procedural and substantive defects in the tribunal outcome.

As part of its finding, the Competition Appeal Court directed that three experts be nominated — one by the government, one by Walmart, and one by the trade unions — to look at how local South African suppliers could be assisted to benefit from the merger.

The government has appointed economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz as its expert.

Massmart-Walmart has appointed as its expert Professor Mike Morris of policy research in international services and manufacturing at the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town. — Sapa

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