This post appeared in a slightly different form first at After Gadget.
One of my PCAs used to have a truck with many excellent, snark-intensive bumper stickers. This was one of my favorites:
I don’t think it’s entirely fair. It’s a little misleading.
It really should say, “Mall-Wart: Your source for cheap plastic crap, which also . . .
- Uses slave labor in other countries for outsourced goods
- Violates the Clean Water Act in multiple US states and otherwise engages in practices egregiously harmful to the environment and dangerous to the consumer
- Exploits its workers
- Busts unions
- Systematically and intentionally puts small businesses out of work
- Participate in racist employment practices
- Has been sued repeatedly for Americans with Disabilities Act violations, such as not allowing people with disabilities accompanied by assistance dogs into their stores
- Is owned by people who each make over $18 billion annually, lobby conservative elected officials, but donate less than one percent of their income to charity.” (By comparison, Bill Gates donates over 50 percent of his income to charity.)
But that would make for a really, really long bumper sticker, don’tcha think?
Where am I getting these facts? From this extremely long list of facts and their sources about Wal-Mart’s illegal and unethical practices. (Except for the ADA and service dog stuff; I just know about that from my involvement with disability rights activism.)
I’ve been wanting to blog about Wal-Mart for quite a while because I noticed when various Occupies began that sometimes stuff was donated to the activists that was purchased at Wal-Mart. I know that many people made conscious efforts to buy food and other supplies from other places, including family owned businesses. I appreciate that. I just want to raise awareness now, as spring arrives and more supplies are being sought again for events — to encourage people to be aware of where your supplies come from. Your water, sign-making materials, media/electronics, food, clothes, camping gear, and on and on. To me, Occupy activists getting donations of goods that were purchased at Wal-Mart is like animal rights protesters eating food from McDonald’s (even if it’s a McSalad).
I think everyone knows that Wal-Mart is evil, but I don’t think most people realize that it’s not just run-of-the-mill heartless-corporation evil. Wal-Mart (like Monsanto) is mind-bogglingly evil. Just when you think they can’t do anything more heinous, they do. You’d be hard-pressed to find any form of despicable activity — human rights abuses (in the US and internationally), animal rights abuses, environmental destruction, problematic trade practices — that they don’t participate in.
I am not trying to guilt-trip everyone who buys things at Wal-Mart. If you have other options, yes, definitely buy everything elsewhere. If you have the money, access to shops other than Wal-Mart, etc., please buy all of your stuff somewhere else.
I understand that in some situations — depending on your location, your income, your access to transportation — Wal-Mart might be your only option for some things. For example, in the town next to mine, the only place you can buy shoes is Wal-Mart. I don’t buy shoes, so this isn’t an issue for me. (Long story.) But I understand that shoes are a necessity, and if you can’t buy them off the internet, you might need to get them from a place you would prefer not to give your money to.
The cool thing about the many, many, many people and organizations who have organized to oppose Wal-Mart is that they understand situations like this. They have a lot of creative and simple suggestions for ways you can still oppose Wal-Mart’s practices even if your options are limited. Indeed, the fact that people end up in situations where Wal-Mart is their only choice is not an accident; the owners of Wal-Mart intentionally squeeze out all competition and keep employees poor so that there is little choice but to shop there.
Still, there are small things you can do. The fabulous Take Action page of the Wal-Mart documentary website has a lot of great suggestions. Here’s one:
Wal-Mart controls 25% of the U.S. toothpaste market. Jeff Hess suggests that even if you have to shop at Wal-Mart, buy your toothpaste elsewhere. Wal-Mart tracks this stuff religiously, and they just might take notice.
You can learn all this and more, in entertaining (and sometimes heart-breaking) detail, by watching the documentary: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price on a DVD that you rent or purchase, or for free online! Please, educate yourself and those activisting with you about where you shop. If you must shop there sometimes, or if you work there, there are still ways you can get involved — to get Wal-Mart to care about health care, to stop new stores from opening near schools (because it has a history of illegally selling firearms, tobacco, and alcohol to minors), and more. You can find out about these opportunities at the Take Action site already mentioned. You can also learn, get inspired, and help workers and communities at Making Change at Wal-Mart.