Column: Always bad business, always

By Eric Naing

It’s big, wears a smiley face and leaves a trail of destruction in its path. No I’m not talking about the Kool-Aid man. I’m referring to Wal-Mart, not only the world’s largest retailer but also the world’s largest company. Whether it’s their hiring practices, anti-labor policies, ties with sweatshops or effect on local business, you probably have a good reason not to shop at Wal-Mart.

If everything goes as planned, there will be three Super Wal-Marts within a ten-minute drive from this campus. My more na‹ve side is excited at the prospect of being able to go in any direction from my apartment and end up with a gallon of pickles for $3, while my more cynical side worries about the impact those three Wal-Marts will have on the local economy.

Sure, the idea of Wal-Mart crushing small business is an old clich‚, but did you know that Wal-Mart also hurts big business? Take the aforementioned pickles. Vlasic, the nation’s largest pickle manufacturer, took a major hit in both profit and image when Wal-Mart started selling their gallon jar of pickles for $3.00. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart is just so massive that many manufacturers and suppliers can’t afford to not do business with them. This gives Wal-Mart the leverage to control anything from price to package design.

Of course this is not Wal-Mart’s only sin. Many companies that are hurt by Wal-Mart’s unscrupulous business practices are often forced to lay off workers and close their operations in the United States, only to turn to overseas outsourcing. Not only does this hurt the American economy, but it also has encouraged the use of sweatshop labor. Wal-Mart has been caught selling products made in what essentially are sweatshops from countries such as Bangladesh, Honduras, Myanmar and many others.

Don’t worry though, Wal-Mart has not forgotten about the United States. Their rabidly anti-labor policies have ensured that American workers can enjoy the same hellish work environment as their foreign counterparts. Wal-Mart has been caught firing workers that discuss unionization, providing their workers with a physically dangerous workplace and meager benefits and neglecting to pay overtime.

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    But wait, there’s more. According to the organization Wal-Mart Versus Women, women hold only 15 percent of management positions at Wal-Mart despite making up two-thirds of its hourly staff. Women are also paid less than men in every major job category.

    The interesting thing is Wal-Mart’s response to all these criticisms. If you look at any of their television advertisements, you’ll see Wal-Mart touting its fair business practices, equal opportunity hiring and great treatment of workers just as much, if not more than, its famously low prices. It’s as if the ads are selling Wal-Mart the politician, rather than Wal-Mart the store. And that’s the scary part. Wal-Mart no longer needs to worry about the business sphere, it already dominates that. It only needs to focus on the political aspect of things.

    Many of you may side with Wal-Mart citing the virtues of the free market, but in reality Wal-Mart is an affront to this. Wal-Mart uses its dominance to unfairly control other businesses and squash them. A free market system is about getting as many people into the marketplace as possible. So preventing small businesses from ever entering the system is essentially anti-free market.

    For an alternative business model, just look at rival retailer Costco. They pay their workers more than three times as much as Wal-Mart does while providing many more benefits. Because of this, Costco has high productivity and a dramatically lower job turnover rate than Wal-Mart.

    I can’t force poor students and families not to shop at Wal-Mart, but I do urge those with the privilege to shop elsewhere to do so. Wal-Mart has a pattern of treating its workers poorly, hurting other businesses and ruining the communities where they build their stores. So the next time you need a gallon of pickles, just say no to the smiley face.