“But it’s so cheap!” That’s the rationalization used by millions of consumers for spending a good chunk of their time wandering aimlessly around the lifeless aisles full of plastic goods at the country’s largest retailer, Walmart.
Whether for food (yuck), bathroom towels, clothing, or lawn ornaments, Walmart is the giant catchall for cheaply made products shipped from around the world and sold to American shoppers. When price is the bottom line, you can’t expect to get quality; instead, you get what you pay for. And what you are paying for is sweatshop labor, underage factory workers, poor treatment of product manufacturers, toxic materials, and a general lack of concern about anything other than massive profits.
Shoppers can pretend there is nothing bad behind the blue and yellow shiny-faced facade that Walmart has so carefully constructed, yet it’s what they don’t see in the well-stocked megastores that should frighten them. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Walmart was involved in bribery and a coverup in Mexico regarding the construction and operation of their stores. And that’s only the most recent story; there has been no shortage of negative news coming out about Walmart over the years. A small sampling, if you will:
- Furniture sold at Walmart was made from wood illegally logged in protected habitats. They promised to stop selling products using the wood, but not until 2013.
- In 2009, Walmart settled with the federal government on charges that it broke child labor laws.
- The company is staunchly anti-union, leaving workers unprotected sometimes helpless.
- Having Walmart in your neighborhood isn’t a good thing. According to Business News Daily, “research shows that the negative impact is due to the use of the Walmart business model. A new ‘generic’ grocery store does not equal economic harm, but a new Walmart does.”
- Employees are only offered part-time hours so that the company can avoid paying benefits to them.
- One of their Supercenter stores uses the same amount of energy as 1,095 U.S. homes do in just one day.
- Employees that do get more than part-time hours are encouraged to get publicly-funded healthcare because it saves Walmart money. In Massachusetts, this cost taxpayers nearly $9 million in 2009.
- In 2010, Walmart paid $27.6 million to settle charges in California that it violated environmental laws in the storing and disposing of hazardous materials.
- They once sued an employee who was hit by a truck and suffered severe brain damage; they wanted the money she spent on her healthcare back from her, even though she had paid for company insurance.
- The company avoids avoids an estimated $300 million a year in state corporate income tax payments by deducting rent payments made to itself.
What Can You Do To Help Stop The Walmartization of America?
- Shop elsewhere. Spend your money locally, if you can, and if not shop at other retailers. Where you spend your money does count.
- Watch the documentary Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices. It’s available on Netflix.
- Buy solid goods that will last a long time instead of the cheap, poorly-made ones sold at Walmart.
- Think with your heart and your wallet. Realize that behind the scenes, there are real live humans being taken advantage of.
- Buy American made if you can.
- Cheap = bad. There is no reason why we should be comfortable paying $.99 for a hamburger at McDonald’s nor paying $3 for a cotton t-shirt at Walmart. The labor alone in these products should be worth more than that, so who is getting the shaft in exchange for the cheap prices? That’s right – the laborers.
There are many things in life more important than money, two of them being the welfare of our fellow humans and the health of our environment. Is saving a few dollars worth hurting another person? Worth harming the environment? Too often, the rationale behind shopping at Walmart is a need to save money; yet some of those same people using that rationale pay for 200 cable channels on TV and drink $4 specialty coffee drinks at Starbucks. Where is the need to save money when it comes to those things?
I don’t want my money to go towards taking advantage of other people or contributing to environmental degradation when I can help it. Avoiding Walmart is a simple way for me to try to do this. Many other companies exhibit the same types of behavior, of course, but Walmart’s overall footprint is so big that they have a massive influence on everything – and I don’t want any part of it.
Walmart’s slogan is “Save Money, Live Better” but from where I stand, there are many people worse off because of their corporate ethos. There’s no yellow smiley face for them. Make a difference; take a stand and do your shopping elsewhere.
Image Credit: Walmart Movie