Wal-Mart no model citizen

Stuart Appelbaum | 6/12/2014, 12:37 p.m.
Stuart Applebaum

When President Barack Obama visited a Wal-Mart store in California recently to praise the company’s allegedly progressive environmental philosophy, he couldn’t have picked a worse example of a good global neighbor. While Wal-Mart’s recent efforts to reduce energy consumption in its stores may save them a few electricity dollars and generate some rare good publicity for the company, it has done little to cancel out the negative effects that the retail behemoth is having across the globe.

Wal-Mart continually stands in the way of progress for workers and our communities. Wal-Mart’s low wages and dead-end, part-time jobs feed the growing ranks of the working poor. Many of these workers are forced to turn to public services like Medicare and food stamps in order to survive. That puts a burden on taxpayers who are, in effect, being asked to subsidize Wal-Mart. Their business practices put pressure on other employers to lower their standards in order to compete. This is a particularly bad problem in the retail food industry, where unions like RWDSU Local 338 have been effective in raising standards through strong contracts.

And when Wal-Mart drives competitors out of business, it costs communities’ jobs. For every two jobs that Wal-Mart creates, three are lost as local businesses close, and the quality of Wal-Mart jobs are often inferior to the ones they replace. 

Wal-Mart is standing in the way of progress for exploited workers across the globe by failing to act to protect them in the factories that produce the cheap goods they sell. In the wake of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh last year that cost over 1,100 lives, many international companies—including H&M, which employs members of RWDSU Local 1102—agreed to sign the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,” which calls for corporations to take an active role in the inspection and supervision of their suppliers’ factories.

Wal-Mart refused to sign the accord, and instead, in a phony public relations gesture, created a toothless safety “program” that provides no legally binding protection for workers. In what is literally a matter of life and death, Wal-Mart chose to callously shrug off the safety of workers in Bangladesh.

Wal-Mart may be working to reduce its energy consumption, but that’s one of their only bright ideas when it comes to having a good influence on our planet. When it comes to worker rights, wages and our communities, the company still doesn’t get it.