Friday, May 23, 2008

A Company With No Soul

China's recent 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated entire villages, towns and cities. With the ultimate death toll still unclear, with rescuers pawing through the rubble that has taken the lives of more than 50,000 so far, one would have thought that the multi-national conglomerates that benefit the most from Chinese slave wage labor, would have been the first ones to step up to the plate when it came time to pony up donations to the Chinese people in their desperate time of need.

Not so with Wal-Mart, a corporation that enjoys a 12 billion dollar a year plus profit margin due mainly to their manufacturing plants in China, as well as their ever expanding retail presence in that country. At a time when total corporate donations from around the world have reached more than 3 billion dollars to aid in the recovery efforts, Wal-Mart has donated $430,000. Less than half a million dollars to help the victims, some of whom were their own employees. Yet, less than six months ago, Wal-Mart saw fit to donate $500,000 to Bill Clinton.
Back in the United States, the litany of Wal-Mart wrong doing is so vast and so long, that it would take one days to read through them all. But let's take a look at some of their worst offenses.

Putting aside the fact that Wal-Mart destroys any sense of competition in smaller communities, many times putting out of business smaller established mom and pop businesses, let's see just how honest and good Wal-Mart is for our nation as a whole.

In a letter to Missouri state legislators in 2005, Wal-Mart asserted that they had never encouraged employees to seek out public assistance to supplement their meager wages. They claimed in the letter that they did in fact discourage employees from doing just that. But then a letter surfaced from internal Wal-Mart documents instructing managers on how to get employees to sign up for public assistance benefits. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott admitted that it was cheaper for employees to obtain Food Stamps, than for his corporation to provide workers benefits.

An organization called Good Jobs First has written an in depth comprehensive expose' on how Wal-Mart gives American schools the shaft, and causes communities to have to cut back on other public services due to their challenging of tax assessments in about 40 per cent of the towns across the country where one of their 'super centers' are located.

Wal-Mart uses a profiling system when it comes to store security, and has been sued countless times for stopping people and demanding they submit to searches of their person by security personnel. Not because they set off an alarm, or someone witnessed them stealing anything, but simply because they fit the 'profile' of a thief. Their criteria? All black people are immediate suspects, as are Latinos. People wearing leather jackets or cut off tee shirts are also to be watched extra closely.

While Wal-Mart claims that it comes into small communities and helps to develop the land and bring more business traffic to their towns, the truth is that when Wal-Mart sees an opportunity to develop a larger store in the next town over, they will simply walk away from contracts that are made with the original community, building a super center a few miles down the road, and leaving behind a useless, un-rentable piece of property. When the towns threaten to sue for breach of contract, Wal-Mart tells them to 'go ahead'. In fact, right now, in 15 separate states, there are 10 or more abandoned Wal-Mart stores, 31 states total have the same problem, with a total of 335 abandoned shells decaying into the countrysides of small town America.

In the political arena, Wal-Mart loves to cozy up to the ultra hard right. Millions upon millions of lobbying dollars have gotten so far up the political food chain, that in 2005, President Bush signed a federal highway bill that included 35 million dollars to widen the highway in front of Wal-Mart's Bentonville Arkansas headquarters. Even though the Federal Highway Administration said the work did not need to be done, Rep. John Boozman, an ultra right extremist, lobbied for the money and got it.

San Diego found out what it means to help bring a Wal-Mart to town when the corporation demanded almost 10 million dollars in subsidies, but then found out that they would only be receiving about $800,000 in annual sales tax revenue, a tax that Wal-Mart has fought tooth and nail after signing agreements to pay it.

A 2006 Penn State report shows that when Wal-Mart appears in a community, the poverty rates shoot sky high. Outlining the low wages, no benefits, or benefits that employees can not afford, Penn State also showed how the cost to the communities where Wal-Mart sets up shop far outweighs any benefits. In fact, in every case they looked at, they determined that Wal-Mart was detrimental to the communities well being.

Until caught in 2005, Wal-Mart allowed children to work in unsafe areas of their stores and warehouses, such as loading bays, operating fork lifts and scrap paper balers. Since they can no longer use American child labor, they now use Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Mexican, and other of the world's children where they have no laws to protect the interests of minors.

Fined so many times for violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Wal-Mart just computes the slaps on the wrist into their costs of doing business. And even though successfully sued for 50 million dollars due to their practice of making workers clock out, but then continue working, there are reports that the practice is still continuing today. In another audit of 128 Wal-Mart stores, the Dept. of labor found that Wal-Mart was not in compliance with federally mandated break times in 127 of the stores visited.

One of the most disturbing reports in recent years was the revelation that Wal-Mart maintains 460 terabytes of information about it's customers. Making headlines for about one day, the story disappeared almost as quickly as it came up. To picture 460 terabytes, all one has to do is log online to the Internet. The entire net is comprised of about 230 terabytes, or half of the information that Wal-Mart is storing about you. Not just your purchases, but your mortgage amounts, court dates, marital status, sexual orientation, your driving record, how good your credit is, the list goes on and on. Why they need that information is any one's guess, but the fact that they are gathering it in such vast amounts should disturb everyone.

To say that Wal-Mart, a multi-national conglomerate that turned from one man's dream of a better shopping experience into a corporation that has no soul would be putting it mildly. Arguments are forever made by Wal-Mart supporters trying to make it seem as though the company is merely trying to compete in a global economy. But the argument falls apart when one does just the minimal amount of research into the outright criminal activity, the skirting of other laws, the repression of it's employees, their environmental footprint, their use of slave labor, the company's undue political influence, and on and on and on. Wal-Mart is the Ma Bell of days of old, an out of control, hulking giant, stomping it's way across not only our country, but the world, leaving a trail of destruction and heartbreak wherever they land.

Yes, Wal-Mart is every bit as bad as their opponents say it is, and more. And just like Ma Bell, perhaps the only solution to this menace is to break this corporation up into smaller companies that do not have so much political, financial, or informational power.

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