Monday, April 9, 2007

The High Cost of Low Price

When my husband and I went on our honeymoon, we stopped in Kingston, Ontario and had to do laundry at the midpoint of our trip. We found a coin-operated laundrymat. I was talking to a woman there and the topic of Wal-Mart came up. I, of course, went through the litney of criticisms about the chain. I quickly felt her desperation, she had a low income and had four kids and Wal-Mart allows her family to have things. It moved me back in 1995. Had I let my relative affluence that allows me the luxury to shop at higher priced neighbor-owned stores and more socially responsible places rendered me unable to the benefits of Wal-Mart to the poor?

Frontline did a great documentary called, “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” The answer ends up being a emphatic NO.

There is another documentary I have called, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” available on DVD.

Wal-Mart has transformed manufacturing and distribution by telling American manufacturing that the HAVE to move their operations to China or they will not do business with them. This kills domestic manufacturing jobs, or completely edges out manufacturers who want to keep their jobs in American hands. It used to be that individuals came up with ideas and manufactured them domestically, Wal-Mart comes in and tells manufactures what they want them to make it and how. Do we really want to support this business model?

They are anti-union and spend a good amount of money in surveillance of employees and overall union busting. In fact, the only time someone was caught in Wal-Mart parking lot crime it was because that store happened to have video cameras because employees were thinking of organizing. Do we want to support a business that is hostile to working people and their right to organize?

One of their practices is to muscle into a community and knock out mom and pop stores, and then when they have wiped out the local retail stores, they close the store forcing communities to drive farther and farther to go shopping. Which leads to another problem – since Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the United States taking a huge footprint at each store, it has security problems at each store and does little to make consumers safe.

Many communities see that since Wal-Mart doesn’t give adequate benefits to their employees local and state governments have to carry the burden in social services for them.

One of the big arguments of Wal-Mart is that they are able to offer a wide selection of goods in one place and the aisles are bigger. It is my experience that Wal-Mart isn’t really that less expensive without the price leaders and the quality of the products are sub par. Do we really want consumerism to be easy or encourage purchasing a lot of stuff that is poorly made and made such a trek to get there from China? Do we really want to support a business model that has really no intrinsic roots in our communities and have knock out neighbor-owned businesses?

Neighbor-owned businesses have a bigger stake in the well being of the community than Wal-Mart because they actually live there. You can also talk to the owner and control somewhat what they sell unlike a big corporation like Wal-Mart. I have also found that people who work at small businesses that they know more about what they are selling more than those at Wal-Mart, the big chain hardware, or any chain store. Getting good information can save you a lot of money over having to buy the wrong thing because a retailer doesn’t bother to train their employees. You may have to pay a little more at the mom and pop store but you will probably get that back through the information and advice they are able to give you.

So the relatively small contribution to local charities is hardly and offset to all the social and economic problems Wal-Mart creates.

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