Scott Miller points out that Wal-Mart has made many more products affordable for many more people in the Eagle Valley. He correctly asserts that there is “no place closer that has more stuff people need at anything near the price.”
Yes, Wal-Mart has oodles of cheap stuff. The thing that Scott Miller neglected to mention is this: The true costs of the items are not reflected in Wal-Mart’s the super-low prices.
One cost that isn’t reflected in the price is the cost of destroying local business. Local businesses simply cannot compete with Wal-Mart’s low prices. However, all the consumer dollars spent at Wal-Mart leave the valley and go to enrich a major corporation. Spending money at Wal-Mart hurts our local businesses, as the giant retailer draws consumer dollars away from local alternatives. Cheap merchandise may provide instant gratification, but shopping at Wal-Mart puts the long-term economic future of our valley at risk.
There’s a reason that a shopping cart of stuff at Wal-Mart costs so little: Its employees are poorly paid. The average wage of Wal-Mart workers nationwide is $7.50 an hour. In addition, many Wal-Mart employees must pay for their own health insurance, which is generally prohibitively expensive. Most of Wal-Mart’s entry level workers are women, and Wal-Mart is currently engaged in an enormous gender discrimination lawsuit. Women make up 72 percent of Wal-Mart’s employees, but women make up only 33 percent of its managers. (These statistics come from the Dec. 16, 2002, issue of The Nation.) Wal-Mart has also been sued for not paying its employees overtime and asking them to work off the clock. Wal-Mart lost a lawsuit regarding lack of overtime pay in Olympia, Wash. Wal-Mart faces dozens of similar suits. (See the Dec. 20, 2002, issue of The Olympian.)
Additionally, Wal-Mart allows individual stores to decide whether or not to lock their employees inside the store at night, ostensibly to deter employee theft and prevent employees from sneaking outside to smoke cigarettes in an effort to curb profit losses. While employee theft is something that should be discouraged, the practice of locking employees inside a store is a relic from the 19th century that Wal-Mart has continued to practice for over 15 years. Wal-Mart has recently agreed to ensure that there is always a manager with a key on the premises to let workers out of the store in case of emergencies. (This was reported in the Jan. 18, 2004, issue of The New York Times.)
Wal-Mart also hires illegal aliens. In October, federal authorities arrested hundreds of illegal workers in 21 states that were employed as cleaning contractors by Wal-Mart. In retrospect, it appears that Wal-Mart was fully aware that that many
illegal workers were cleaning Wal-Mart stores. Contracting out janitorial work to firms that employ illegal workers certainly helps to keep the price of Wal-Mart products low. (This was reported by The New York Times on Nov. 5, 2003.)
Not only does Wal-Mart contract out its janitorial services, but the production of its super-cheap products as well. Wal-Mart has abandoned its commitment to keeping jobs on U.S. soil and constantly searches for cheaper and cheaper sources of labor. In its relentless search for ways to cuts costs, Wal-Mart has continued to move manufacturing jobs to China, where labor is incredibly cheap and easily exploitable. (The L.A Times ran an excellent series of articles about Wal-Mart. The information about manufacturing comes from the Nov. 24, 2003, issue.)
In conclusion, Wal-Mart’s low prices are the result of a series of vile, degrading business practices designed to increase corporate profit at the expense of individual workers. If the price of all the low-cost merchandise reflected the true cost of production, Wal-Mart’s prices wouldn’t be so attractive. I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart because I believe that the rights of people are worth more than cheap plastic items.