Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wake-up Walmart

I spent a lot of time shopping online for Cyber Monday.  Having more time than money means I get a little obsessive about each purchase. I was planning to get a Hello Kitty boombox with a few CDs this Christmas for Daisy, my six year old. First, I looked at Toys R Us and after looking at the customer reviews, realized that all the Hello Kitty, iCarly and other kid-crack-themed boomboxes don't last. Then I found a cute turquoise boombox that was rated well . . . but with shipping, the total was $50 at three different sites. That was more than I wanted to pay so I did something that's against my shopping religion and *gulp* looked at Walmart. My retail morals couldn't compete with $30 delivered for the exact same thing.

Walmart - as well as Amazon - had a record breaking Cyber Monday. Apparently, Walmart has had a bit of a PR makeover in recent times by carrying more organic products and overhauling some of their more outrageous management practices of the past, such as forced unpaid overtime. But mostly, it's the economy. I read somewhere that after the recession was in full force, we heard less about the evils of Walmart because people couldn't afford to argue with the bottom lines of their rapidly shrinking budgets. It's true for me . . . when I was fully employed, I would have gladly paid $20 to not shop at Walmart. But with the money I saved on the boombox, I can afford to make my dog's Christmas with that Snuggie blanket she really has to have (joking . . . I'm totally going to wait for the after-Christmas sales).

It's not that Walmart was ever really affected by bad press before the recession.  In the last ten years, it's become the largest retailer in the world, number one on the Fortune 500 and America's largest employer. Someone is shopping there. But what has Walmart done wrong, besides killing the unique character of shopping areas across the country? My memory of the specifics, as described in Nickel and Dimed in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, was dim. It's been several years since I read her firsthand account of being a Walmart employee.

So, in the afterglow of cyber shopping, I decided to refresh my memory and found Here's a sampling of how Walmart continues to rip off its employees, U.S. taxpayers, and pretty much everyone on earth. 
In 2008, the average full time Associate (34 hours per week) earns $10.84 hourly for an annual income of $19,165. That’s $2,000 below the Federal Poverty Line for a family of four. []

Last year, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott earned $29.7 million in total compensation, or 1,551 times the annual income of the average full time Wal-Mart Associate. []

A 2004 estimate by the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce found that Wal-Mart's low wages cost taxpayers up to $2.5 billion a year in the form of federal public assistance programs. ["Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart," A Report by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce]

A 2008 report by the National Labor Committee found that workers making holiday ornaments for Wal-Mart in Guangzhou, China were paid only 2/3 of the legal minimum wage, often worked 95 hour weeks, and were forced to work for months without a single day off. The report also found that children as young as 12 worked in the factory and that workers handled dangerous chemicals without even the most rudimentary form of protection, leading to serious skin rashes and sores. ["A Wal-Mart Christmas: Brought to You by a Sweatshop in China," The National Labor Committee, December 2007]

Now I wish I would have just spent that extra $20. It's not that Target or Amazon are angels but I don't think they are blatantly raping the economy in quite the same way. I'm choosing not to do the research at this specific moment because I'm not sure how my household budget would work without Target. So, let me stay in my blissful state of corporate ignorance just a little longer.

But here's what I do to repent for my shopping sins. Whenever I get a little birthday money or whatever, I try to throw a few dollars at organizations like Trade as One. Its mission is to "use sustainable business to break cycles of poverty and dependency in the developing world. We all have a conscience, and we want to give people the chance to use it when they shop." This organization is affiliated with a church in my community; a parent of one of my daughter's classmates invited me to the holiday fair last year. I bought beautiful Christmas cards for $40, made by impoverished women with HIV/AIDS in Africa.  I love the fact that this local church networks with other churches of different denominations worldwide to promote responsible business practices. It seems to me that churches should be about acceptance and helping others and really, it all comes down to economics. I just realized where I'll be spending that $20.


No comments:

Post a Comment