Why I Loathe Wal-Mart and What We Can Do

October 9, 2008

Oh, how I loathe Wal-Mart. I know several people who mention Wal-Mart in almost every conversation I have with them. Not as the central topic of conversation, it just comes up–”I was at Wal-Mart,” “If you’re ever at Wal-Mart and…,” “I need to go to Wal-Mart and get…,” etc. I used to vehemently rage at Wal-Mart at random moments, but hypocritically found myself shopping there after weeks of avoidance. Well, I finally just made the decision once and for all to avoid Wal-Mart as best as I can. I haven’t been in over a year and I see no need to go to one anytime soon. I also no longer randomly rage at it at the drop of the hat. I do my part in what I feel is the right thing– I don’t give my money to a business I feel does nothing but harm to the world around it. If someone realizes I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and asks me why, I’ll tell them first by trying the short answer–they’re one of the few businesses I do my best to avoid because I feel they areunethical.
If someone wants to get into a lengthy discussion as to why I feel that way I’ll discuss it with them.
If you’re unfamiliar with with the main problems with Wal Mart I’ll briefly mention them: they operate like a monopoly by cornering the market on as many products and services as they can, undercutting costs on certain items to push other businesses out of business. The victims initially are the local business owners who can’t keep up with the giant corporation; of course, once a Wal Mart runs every local business out of a small town they own the market and can charge whatever they like. Even if Wal Mart continues to charge a “reasonable” price for it’s goods once it’s the only game in town does that make it okay? This is how after the small business owners suffer and go under the rest of us continue to be negatively impacted. Small towns across America have dead downtown areas. Downtown, which for decades in small towns was a place for people to congregate, eat, shop and socialize–people supported their own locally owned and operated businesses. These local business employ local workers, make money from the local community and contribute back to the same community. Now, many if not most downtown areas in small to medium sized towns are deserted. Towns lose local community, regional character and individuality. In a successful market if one place doesn’t have what you’re looking for you can go somewhere else to get it. If you’re left with only one major option and they don’t have what you’re looking for you’re out of luck. They get to not only set prices for a local market but in essence also set “choice” and “taste.” They can determine what they see fit for your consumption. And when that company takes it upon itself to be somewhat of a moral and cultural guardian like Wal Mart does, their supposed “family focused conservative values” will determine what is suitable for your purchase potential. Go into any Wal Mart and you’ll probably see most in-store TVs tuned to Fox news broadcasting Rupert Murdoch’s propoganda-of-the-day, you’ll find an ever decreasing selection of CDs and DVDs, “explicit” music will be available only in an edited “clean” version. Most R rated movies will be available but if that movie came “unrated” it won’t be carried because like Wal Mart, the MPAA is a cultural guardian which determines what’s safe for your consumption. At Wal Mart you’ll also find a lot of clothes and toys made in China, Vietnam, Korea and other foreign countries by people working 6 and 7 sixteen hour workdays a week for very little pay. At one time you would find a lot of items bearing the American flag, stamped with “Made in America”. Wal Mart got called on that so they’re a bit more careful with their “made in America” claims now. You’ll find a lot of meat and vegetables that have been shipped hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from their point of origin but locally grown and produced fruits, vegeatables and meats? Not a chance. Now, most other grocers are guilty of this as well but as the largest and wealthiest Wal Mart leads the way by bad example.

An excellent documentary is available if you want details– “The High Cost of a Low Price,” and it thoroughly details Wal-Mart’s wrongs: their mistreatment of employees, how they’ve urged employees to take advantage of government help programs instead of paying them more. Wal Mart’s thousands of employees are a picture perfect example of the working poor. Employees may work 5 and 6 days a week, 8 to 12 hours a day and still not make enough to afford neccessities such as adequate health insurance, and most of their paychecks get dumped back into Wal Mart for their own groceries and goods. Watching this documentary you will also see details of the environmental damage Wal Mart is responsible for; you’ll see their union busting activities and their suggestions to their employees to vote GOP to avoid those unions. You’ll see interviews with and depictions of the lifestyles of the foreign workers who are paid slave wages and suffer from Wal Marts global mistreatment. The list of grievances perpetrated by Wal Mart could span hundreds of pages but there is more that I want to specifically cover here than that.

Really , my central focus with this article is on how we can all make a difference in regards to Wal Mart. I realize that there are a lot of towns where Wal Mart may very well be one of or the only affordable option. But many times I think people have let themselves be fooled into believing that this is the case. People quite often say and feel that Wal Mart is their only realistically affordable option. “I don’t like to shop there but I can’t afford not to,” they say. I’m not unreasonable enough to say that the people who don’t have access to an affordable alternative to Wal Mart should suffer; if Wal Mart is your only affordable choice, shop there. I think that leaves a lot of us with other options though. I stopped shopping at Wal Mart during the last 6 months or so of living in a city of about 386,000 people. There were about 4 Wal Marts, 3 Krogers and an assortment of Fresh Markets, Publix and local grocers to choose from. For other goods we had a large variety of chains and local stores at comparable prices. So obviously avoiding Wal Mart in that city wasn’t difficult. I moved from there to a much smaller town, a place of about 55,000 people. Much smaller of a town, but I still have a variety of places to choose from. I’ve heard the argument from others that choosing another chain isn’t much better, that they would be as large and controlling as Wal Mart given the chance to be as “successful.” This may or may not be the case, but I know that several of Wal Marts competitors operate much more ethically. Also, by choosing other chains you stop giving your money to increase Wall Mart’s leading position. If you feel leary of giving money to yet another chain you can search out locally owned stores if you have that option. You can also rotate from chain to chain, helping to build up a lot of other chains and “equalize” the market. The point is, if you disagree with Wal Mart’s practices and policies, do your best to avoid shopping there and contributing your money to their growth. I did like a lot of people for a long time, complain about Wal-Mart but shop there anyway. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have to shop there, that’s how they want you to feel. I’m far from wealthy, heck as a college graduate still looking for work in my appropriate field and working for much less at the moment I’m far from even being considered “middle class”- – but I find it easy to avoid contributing my money to a company I feel violates every law of ethical business and moral conduct. You can too, so if you feel like I feel, try to support local businesses when possible. When that’s not an option, spread your business amongst other chains that are comparable in price but a bit better in business conduct.

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