By Dan Post
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
My name is Dan, and I quit shopping at Wal-Mart 18 months ago.
It hasn't always been easy. There's a voice in my head that calls to me: "Come here, Dan. Always low prices. Always." Inside my gut, there's this fire burning for Wal-Mart, and it never goes out. But I just refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.
Some people even call me a crazy liberal idealist for it.
They should consider this: According to Business Week, the average Wal-Mart sales employee earns $13,861 per year, which is $1,000 below the poverty line for a family of three in the U.S.
Compare that to the chief executive officer of Wal-Mart, Lee Scott, who "earns" more than $27 million per year. He makes 1,947 times more money than the blue-collar workers he employs. This ratio is about five times the national average (431-to-1, a harrowing figure in and of itself). Why should I support a company with a pay structure like this?
This is no matter for Wal-Mart though, as the green keeps rolling into investor's pockets. After slashing prices even further this month, Wal-Mart disclosed a November sales increase of 4.3 percent over a year ago.
CNN Money reported that 2 million people ran a race to the bottom in Wal-Mart's first hour of business on the Friday after Thanksgiving. People were lining up at 5 a.m. to buy $400 laptops and $2 T-shirts; their brains apparently shut off from reality from tryptophan overdoses.
Or maybe Wal-Mart's advertising barrage of "Always low prices. Always" reached subconscious levels in the general population to the point where consumers just woke up at that ungodly hour without even using alarms. They were awakened from their dreams by an innate compulsion for Wal-Mart's odd hours and ridiculous deals.
In the end, it's the truth in their advertising that makes people shop at Wal-Mart. Granted, it is unusual to say that Wal-Mart practices truth in advertising, considering that the company once falsely claimed everything in its store was made in America. But always having the lowest prices really does bring consumers to Wal-Mart and only Wal-Mart.
The CEO of Wa
-Mart makes 1,947 times more money than the average sales employee.
What if people considered for a moment what millions of ex-Wal-Mart customers already have? What if people considered "The High Cost of Low Price" (the title of a new DVD about Wal-Mart by Director Robert Greenway)?
I stayed home from shopping over the weekend and instead watched Greenway's documentary. For 90 minutes, I was inundated by a sobering pattern of Wal-Mart's greed and unethical practices. No. 1 among them: the company's horrible treatment of its workers.
For example, while your next pair of underwear sells for less, the factory workers in China who make the garments earn 17 cents per hour. Wal-Mart can sell your brand-new plasma TV for under a grand because its managers force their employees to work overtime without extra pay. They have even been accused of a top-down scheme to delete hours off of employees' time cards.
The DVD also claims that women and minorities are rarely, if ever, promoted to managerial positions. Wal-Mart even encourages its employees to go to the government for health care and welfare, acknowledging that the wages it pays to its workers won't cut it.
Pouring salt on these wounds, Greenway reports that Wal-Mart is the largest repeat offender of environmental rules in this country. And they often spend more money on union busting than on parking lot safety.
They received more than $1 billion in subsidies by local governments, adding more pressure to small businesses already struggling to compete with the retail giant. It's not like they really need these subsidies; the five major beneficiaries of the Wal-Mart fortune are worth more than $18 billion each.
The company shamelessly responds to these facts by calling them accusations and referring to their business policies as the pieces to a winning puzzle. Consumers should call their bluff.
We don't have to stand for this big corporation's illegality and immorality. Cities around the country and the world have stopped Wal-Mart in its tracks, refusing to allow the store's construction in their towns. And you can stop Wal-Mart, too.
Wal-Mart's workers and customers deserve better treatment, and the only way to force Wal-Mart's hand is to show them consumers won't stand for these abuses. It may be hard at first, and it takes commitment.
You might not be able to quit cold turkey. If that's the case, take it slow and wean yourself off. Just don't shop there anymore.
Dan Post is a senior majoring in ecology and anthropology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.