Part III: Capitalism at its Best
Uncle Bill Warner
definitely sells for less, which is the secret of their phenomenal
success. They stock what people want, are efficient in keeping track
of their inventory, which keeps the costs lower and gives better
customer service. It is, according to CEO Lee Scott, unfairly attacked
merely because it is so big. The 5,000 lawsuits pending against
Wal-Mart would not seem nearly so many if you take into account
that it is the largest company in the world.
out the fact that their sex-discrimination policies that keep women
proportionally fewer in management positions are no worse than other
companies. Scott points out that Wal-Mart provides entry-level jobs
for many people who would not have been able to find employment
elsewhere, and offers opportunities for people to rise from a cart
handler to management. 9,000 "associates" were promoted
to management last year.
They are fighting
the image that they are slave drivers by doing things like having
computers shut down cash registers during an employee's break time
so they cannot be forced to work through it. Many of the problems
involving "forced" overtime are, claims Scott, the result
of over-zealous young managers who are under pressure to produce
and sometimes can be expected to make wrong decisions. He blames
it on the individual rather than the company policy to get more
work for less money.
for low prices which has led the company to seeking the lowest possible
prices from their suppliers, and which has led them to China, has
opened up a new venue for sales in that country. There are now 39
Wal-Marts in China, and the prospect of many more coming soon as
the standard of living rises there. American suppliers to Wal-Mart
either turn to China themselves or go bankrupt. This affects small
companies who supply them--a sort of trickle down poverty.
Any way you
slice it, more jobs for the Chinese at low wages means fewer jobs
for Americans at high wages. Who, you may ask, is going to have
any money one day with which to buy things at Wal-Mart here in America?
Perhaps that is why the company is expanding into the Chinese consumer
A good example
of this was with the Pillow-Tex company that formerly sold to Wal-Mart.
Despite the fact that they were the world's largest handler of textiles,
Wal-Mart's pressure on them to take less for their products eventually
drove them into bankruptcy, putting 14,000 employees on the street.
Unemployed people find it hard to buy things, even when they are
made in China.
One of the
beliefs Wal-Mart has about itself is that it is tough but fair.
One wonders where all those 5,000 lawsuits came from if the company
is so fair, especially the millions of dollars they were forced
to pay employees who were cheated out of overtime pay. The company
was dragged kicking and screaming to the bank to withdraw a wee
bit of their billions to be "fair."
drive for success without regard for workers is a near-perfect example
of capitalism. Low prices mean success and profits. Wal-Mart says
that if they pay their workers more, then they will have to raise
prices, and people will start shopping at K-Mart or Target, which
will mean layoffs at Wal-Mart.
much of the fact that they are serving minority communities where
no one else has been willing to build stores. The issue becomes
one of filling a void, they say. If there are no businesses providing
the things Wal-Mart sells, obviously this is not the same as it
mom-and-pop businesses are being plowed under.
a blessing or a curse? Probably both. Less than half of their workers
can afford the Wal-Mart health care plan, but then over 40 million
of their fellow Americans can't afford health care, either. So,
what power, other than lawsuits, do we have over our Wal-Marts?
Some unions are advising their members to use the partial boycott,
since they know they can't afford to stop shopping at Wal-Mart completely.
A letter to the store manager that you are going to only shop at
Wal-Mart 6 days a week, or why you are going to buy your dog food
somewhere else until they stop locking their employees in at night,
or until they start paying for "off-the-books" overtime
might make a difference. Wal-Mart operates on a very low profit
margin, and any dent in their profits is going to get their attention.
In any case, the consumer is boss. Your dollars have made Wal-Mart
the giant it is today, and how you spend them will determine how
responsibly the company acts in the future.
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