By Georgette Carrillo
Walmart, America’s super discount store, had a rollercoaster year in 2013. If you’re a Walmart investor, you can’t complain given that it had excellent profits largely to due to America’s appetite for low prices and poor quality products. If you’re a taxpayer, advocate for living wages or simply a person who believes that people should be treated with respect, Walmart’s success is simply sickening. To bring some of these issues to light, many Americans, including some of your neighbors, and media outlets have begun to highlight some of Walmart’s antics.
Walmart’s questionable practices aren’t necessarily limited to one issue or geographic area. Rather, Walmart issues cross numerous boundaries. For example, Walmart was recently accused of bribing local officials for favorable approvals in Mexico and found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of retaliating against its employees for protesting low wages. Moreover, Walmart has been found guilty of violating environmental regulations and contracting with sweatshops in Bangladesh.
According to the Web site 24/7 Wall St, Walmart was rated the worst company to work for in America. Although this media outlet identified nine other companies, Walmart’s 2012 profits surpassed the others by billions of dollars.
Locally, numerous people have taken note and organized to educate others. On one of America’s busiest shopping days, commonly referred to as Black Friday, roughly 40 protesters locally joined 1,400 protesters across 46 states that targeted Walmart. The local protest was held at the Clovis Walmart. The primary purpose of the protest was to call attention to Walmart’s low wages and its practice of reducing hours so that it will not have to provide its employees with benefits. Given Walmart’s reputation for retaliating against workers who speak out, no current Walmart employees joined the protest; however, many thanked the protesters for supporting them.
On a national level, Walmart was recently mocked when one of its stores in Ohio ran a Thanksgiving food drive, not for the greater community but rather for its own employees. National news outlets had a field day highlighting that the retail behemoth didn’t pay adequate wages for its employees to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.
Rather than assisting its associates, Walmart hired a public relations firm to spin the story as nothing more than union propaganda, even though Walmart employees had organized the drive. Regardless, Walmart ran a series of online ads targeting labor activists and groups. The online ads portrayed protesters as lazy and having nothing better to do on Black Friday.
On the global stage, Walmart has not done much better. Walmart routinely contracts with sweatshops in third world countries. Not surprisingly, many of these companies pay nominal wages and have horrid working conditions. In November 2012, one of these factories in Bangladesh caught fire resulting in the death of 112 workers. Shortly after, another building, also in Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1,127 workers. Walmart claimed no fault in both incidents.
In 2013, Kalpona Akter, an activist from Bangladesh, attended Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting to help her country develop safety plans for its garment factories. Akter told the Walmart brass that “[f]or years every time there’s a tragedy, Walmart officials have made promises to improve the terrible conditions in my country’s garment factories, yet the tragedies continue.”
Cruz Serna, a member of IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 1245 and a Fresno resident who witnessed the event, stated that Walmart representatives sang while Akter spoke, as though she was nonexistent.
Walmart has also been accused of “greenwashing” the public. On its Web site, Walmart claims it’s a leader in renewable energy. However, a study conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) found Walmart’s claims to be false.
According to Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the ILSR, “Walmart would take the 33rd spot, just a hair behind Chevron, America’s second largest oil company.” None of Walmart’s Fresno stores is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which is largely recognized as the authority for building sustainability.
Also in 2013, Walmart pled guilty to federal environmental crimes and was fined more than $81 million, according to the FBI.
Although Walmart is not alone in its quest to maximize profits, it is largely viewed as the leader in the retail industry. Although no one is asking Walmart to pay its associates six-figure salaries with plush retirement accounts, it seems reasonable that a company with such large profits would be more than willing to pay its employees slightly more—at least enough for them to be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner.
Sadly though, it does not appear that Walmart will be shamed into changing how it treats its employees anytime soon; rather, only our wallets can make a difference. We can either vote with where we shop or continue to shop at Walmart. If we choose the latter, we will continue to fill in the gap for Walmart employees in the form of food stamps, healthcare, housing and the like.
In other words, the local taxpayer inherits the long-term impacts of Walmart’s approach, both positive and negative. The choice seems fairly obvious.
Georgette Carrillo is an active member of IBEW Local 1245. Contact her at email@example.com.