Thursday, July 27, 2006

Store of the Free and the Just

Walmart is the world’s biggest company in retail sales. I've followed their continued rise for a while, now, and it's not pretty.

Their advertising, propaganda says it’s a highly moral company, one upholding the highest of moral standards.

I will do two approaches to this obviously dubious claim.

It prides itself of its «family friendly» stores. What this basically translates to, is the christian right wing view currently so popular in the United States, also in the highest public office. They refuse to sell anything fitting their perception of «offensive material» (whatever that is), for instance CD’s with parental guidance. They boycotted Sheryl Crow for criticizing them for selling handguns, and stopped that practice just after she got a lot of popular support. They don’t sell Marilyn Manson (of course). Their power reaches greedy record companies and artists, making them release two versions of the same CD or book or release, the Walmart version having a lot of beeps when "profanity" and stuff appears. They ban musicians, authors, comedians and anything and anyone, really, not complying with their standards. The list is long and bad, an eyesore for anyone caring about free speech and expression. They use their market dominance, their «wealth» to ruthlessly promote their political and moral view. In many places they even have monopoly on selling popular art.

My second approach is exposing them for their even more obvious hypocrisy. They refuse to allow workers to organize, denying them health care and generally treating them in ways most people believe are a thing of the past. «Even» human rights are easily bypassed by Walmart’s highly moral business practices. In both production facilities and stores in large parts of the world they impose their will on rich and poor. Again, this isn’t one or two cases, but clearly revealing that they’re serving both God and Mammon, and both in equally horrible ways.

And they got powerful supporters and defenders. When the Norwegian Petroleum Fund pulled the fund's Walmart investments from its portfolio because of the store chain's extremely unethical practices, this created sharp reactions from United States officials, among them the United States ambassador to Norway, Benson K. Whitney, threatening with «consequences».

- Walmart isn’t unethical, he said. – These are very serious allegations against a company creating thousands of jobs all over the world. Investments shouldn’t be governed by politics, but by commercial interests.

The Ethical Council advising the Norwegian government had this recommendation November 15, 2005:

«There is extensive material making it clear that Walmart thoroughly and systematically uses minors as part of their work force, contradicting international rules regulating labor, that many of their production facilities are dangerous to health and lives, that workers are forced to work overtime without compensation, that the company systematically discriminates women concerning pay, that all attempts at organization among the company’s employees are stopped, that there in some cases are used punishment and imprisonment of workers, with a lot of other related cases.»

The council’s remarks concern Walmart’s facilities and stores in United States, Canada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Lesotho, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Malawi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia.

Walmart isn’t everywhere yet, but they are growing, even from their already dominating position. Attempts at stopping them seem inadequate and meager, at best. And they are just one of many multinational corporations making their presence known across the world.

So, this is the future, then? This is the direction the world and mankind is headed?

It sure seems that way. Money and censorship have always worked hand in hand, and these days they do so more than ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget, while we criticize Walmart for unethical practices, that they don't pay most of their workers a living wage. As laid out in Babara Ehrintich's "Nickle and Dimed" they generally will not work most of their workers full time, coerce them into to turning in their overtime for pay, have a health insurance plan that is not affordable for someone working at the wages they pay, and most of their workers who have children (and some who do not) are eligible for federal money to help them get by such as food stamps, and health coverage for kids, and welfare.