Thursday, 2 February 2012
Devouring Films: Wal*Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
So, I really enjoyed this documentary which I've been meaning to watch for years but never got round to til I got Netflix AND had my wisdom teeth out around the same time. I was well aware that I would be completely horrified by their business practices, but about now, I'm kind of horrified at the way the government acts (or I should say acted- this was made in 2005, so I'm not sure how things are now: Probably worse, but there's always the chance that they're better) towards Wal*Mart. Specifically: local governments subsidise the building of Wal*Marts in their local area, a stunningly unnecessary move that benefits approximately 3 people, and all of them Waltons, heirs of the original owner of Wal*Mart. Why is it unnecessary? Wal*Mart are (or again, possibly were) the largest corporation in the world, earning more than enough money to build their own damn stores; and yet they were being enticed into areas with all this extra money just so local economies could be completely decimated. Not cool, local governments. At all.
So, you'd think with all their money taken away from schools and other public services, Wal*Mart could afford to give a little money to charity, right? Well, the Waltons had, as of 2005, donated less than 1% of their wealth to charity. Bill Gates? Has donated 58%, and he's still an extremely rich man. EXTREMELY. (I love Bill Gates by the way. Just so we're all aware). But, ok, fair enough, maybe they want to keep their money. That's fine (sort of). But with the massive profits Wal*Mart make every year, they could definitely pay their workers enough money to live off, right? Well, not exactly- Wal*Mart employees don't earn enough to pay for the company health insurance, for daycare, or, basically, for anything other than food and utilities, and sometimes not even that. Wal*Mart, in fact, actively encourage employees to go through government schemes so they can get the stuff they need, just so Wal*Mart doesn't have to provide it for them. Just another way they're swindling tax dollars out of the US Government.
That wasn't even the most upsetting part of the documentary, though I kind of wish it was. Most upsetting is split between the small business owner of 40 years who had to shut down because a Wal*Mart moved in up the road, just because his son and granddaughter were crying about how much they loved the business, and also because of how he said that he really got to know and care about all his employees. I mean, does anyone care about their employees anymore, because all of these massive corporations that I think all of us support in one way or another sure as hell don't. Marginally more upsetting though, was listening to the state of the conditions that workers in China and Bangladesh have to go through just to make cheap shit for Western consumers to buy. I get extremely uncomfortable even thinking about it, because of course I buy some of this cheap shit, and I am, in part, responsible for the subjugation of millions, and maybe even more (tens of millions? Billions?) living breathing human beings. Should they really have to work their entire lives, or at least their entire youths away so that we can buy a really really cheap jumper? Of course not, and we all agree with that, only we're still buying that jumper because there's a complete disconnect between a product's origins, and how it is when we see it in a shop. Like I say, it's not something I am physically able to think about a lot, because it just makes me sick and I literally don't know what to do about it, on a wider scale than just me not buying it.
That is, of course, something that's absolutely not exclusive to Wal*Mart, although as the documentary says, as the largest corporation in the world, they have to set the standard for good working practices and everyone else will follow suit. Doesn't sound too hard, but apparently it is, because, hey, it's all about the money! The bottom line is: The cheaper they can get the product, the greater profit they can make on it, and the more money they can put into their own pockets and not pay their workers. They don't care about the consumer, they don't care about their workers, they literally just care about their profits, and, again, they're far from being alone in this. Everyone does it, and until people stand up and say they want things to change, nothing will. It never used to be like this- something I vividly remember from a Michael Moore documentary is his saying how his dad used to work at the General Motors factory in Michigan, and how their aim was for every worker to be able to afford one of their cars (along with having a good standard of living, enough food to eat and all that jazz), and I just thought, well, where have companies like that gone? Why is it all about making as much money as you possibly can without sharing the wealth now, and why do we stand for it? I blame the 80s, personally, but I blame the 80s for everything.
Anyway. Wal*Mart is evil, yes we know. I think this is a really good documentary for someone who really isn't aware of all the shitty thing Wal*Mart do (and I really wasn't aware of all of them, by any means) and just provides so much evidence (SO many interviews) for the cases it makes. It's also, I think, pretty well made- they do a good job of cutting in adverts where Wal*Mart have made outrageous claims (like caring about the environment! HA!) and then providing cases where they clearly haven't followed through on, well, any of these claims. I also like the fact that it ends on a positive note, highlighting cases where people have defeated Wal*Marts being built in their local areas, and, although 7 years later they're still going strong, at least we know they can be defeated, however small each victory may seem. Because don't get me wrong- even though I want to visit Wal*Mart as a kind of tourist destination, I'd be much happier seeing them go out of business, with a whole load of wonderfully ethical and fair businesses taking their place**. I can dream, right?
*I know it's just Walmart now (at least according to Wikipedia) but I like to use the star key, so shh!
**Because, you know, I don't want people to lose their jobs or anything, even if they are shitty shitty jobs- in Laura's imagination world, these new ones are much much better.
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THE WALTONS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WALMART? I always thought there was something sinister about John-Boy!ReplyDelete
Well, aren't you just the most hilarious... No, no you're not. Except I did maybe snigger a teeny bit at that. I've never seen The Waltons though, so the connection didn't even occur to me!Delete
Have you ever read Nickled and Dimed? One of the minimum wage jobs she works is at a Wal-Mart and she talks about how the employees there can't even afford to buy the remainder-bin, stained clothes from there.ReplyDelete
I have not, but that is awful, and yet I'm not at all surprised, which is even sadder. Stupid Wal-Mart being all stupid and evil.Delete
Hmm, I think it's hard for people who didn't grow up with the innovation of Walmart to understand the original appeal to Americans, even though it is evil.ReplyDelete
I remember when I was around 9ish my very very rural area got our first Walmart, and we were all mind-blown. Everything in one location and for affordable prices made a world of difference in my working class family. Plus, the store brought jobs. The things is, Walmart is exploitative, definitely, but if you're a working class family and the choice is Walmart clothes or no clothes, Walmart wins.
My honeyman actually used to work at Walmart cause you know, hey it was a job. Lucky he was just stocking the grocery shelves, and he could pretty much just listen to his music as he did that and didn't really have to answer any customer's questions, so the 8 bucks or whatever he was making an hour was kind of worth it. And as evil as the place is, sometimes I do end up going there for something if I can't find it anywhere else. Luckily I'm able to avoid it for 6 months or so at a time.ReplyDelete
LOL and if you ever do come over here, the BEST time to go to Walmart is the middle of the night! Unless you're in the ghetto of course, but otherwise it's awesome b/c during the day, it's so ANNOYINGLY busy.
You know, I'd never like moan at someone for working at Walmart, because hey, it's a job- I'm just more inclined to go 'God, you poor thing, do you need some food because they DON'T FREAKING PAY YOU ENOUGH TO EAT WITH?!' And I think it's cool that you avoid it if you can, you know? If everyone just went there when they like *had* to, then they'd make a lot less money and that would be way good. Just sayin.Delete
HOW CAN A GIANT SHOP BE ALL BUSY?! I do seriously want to go to one, just because I'm not sure I've ever seen anything so big. At least not places you can buy stuff from, anyway!
Ive been to the states a fair few times and have gone into numorous Wal.-Marts, like you says its almost a tourist thing. Just imagine Asdas but WORSE. Yep worse.ReplyDelete
The last time I went in there a few years ago the poor man packing my bag grew up in Surry before his parents moved to the states and he kept going on and on about how much he hated working there.
HOW CAN SOMETHING BE WORSE THAN ASDA?! This literally makes no sense to me! Asda never ever ever has the things I want, so Walmart probably has even less then (IN A GIANT SHOP! WHAT THE HELL!)Delete
And, aww, that poor man! I want to go and rescue him and bring him back here so he can at least have free healthcare again!