The last two years have been filled with crisis and controversy at Walmart. While the company continues to rake in billions in profit and the Walton family now has more wealth than 42% of American families combined, many are increasingly asking whether Walmart’s business model is good for our country and the world.
Walmart is the largest private employer in the US and the world and Walmart is setting the standard for jobs – a standard so low, that hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers live in poverty – including many who work full time. Walmart is also driving standards down around the world, including in countries like Bangladesh, where Walmart goods had been produced in factories that recently burned and collapsed, killing over a thousand people, mostly woman.
Walmart is also exacerbating the widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. The average full time Walmart “associate” makes about $15,500 a year. And worse, Walmart is pushing more and more workers toward a permanent part-time status. Meanwhile, the six members of the Walton family—heirs to the Walmart fortune and near majority owners of the company—have a combined wealth of $115 billion. That’s more than the bottom 42% of Americans combined and the world’s largest private employer.
Walmart doesn’t only impact workers – the company’s ‘grow at any cost’ mentality creates negative impacts on the environment, food production and small businesses.
For the first time in history, Walmart retail workers have a voice through the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). With thousands of members in hundreds of stores in more than thirty states, this courageous group of workers is speaking out and beginning to win improvements in their jobs and their lives. They have been joined by workers at Walmart-controlled warehouses, Walmart supply chain workers from the US and around the world, and by community, clergy and environmental leaders have joined together to challenge Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen our communities. mpany’s ‘grow at any cost’ mentality creates negative impacts on the environment, food production, small businesses, etc.
Walmart’s growth-at-all costs model contributed to the company building a disturbing track record when it comes to workers’ rights, workplace safety, legal compliance, environmental destruction and more. Here are just a few of the company’s “highlights” from recent years:
Keeping America In Poverty – And Trying to Silence Workers Who Speak Out for Change
Walmart workers have been forced to strike repeatedly in response to the company’s efforts to silence Associates who speak out for better jobs. American Rights at Work recently released a new white paper detailing the company’s campaign of intimidation.
Meanwhile Walmart is notorious for poor quality jobs. An employee who works Walmart’s definition of full-time (34 hours per week) makes just $15,500/year. That means hundreds of thousands of people who work full-time at Walmart still live below the poverty line.
Workers Dying in Walmart’s Supply Chain
Weeks after the deaths of more than 1,100 workers in a factory collapse, Walmart is facing criticism for refusing to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, an agreement to improve workplace safety and inspections at Bangladeshi apparel factories. Following a factory fire last fall, The New York Times reported that Walmart officials had played a key role in blocking efforts to upgrade fire and electrical safety in the nation.
Last April, workers at Thai shrimp farms supplying Walmart went on strike, protesting low wages, inadequate toilet access, and substandard housing. Human Rights Watch reported that working conditions were akin to debt bondage.
Walmart Costs Taxpayers Big
A study released in May, 2013 by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce found that, “When low wages leave Wal-Mart workers unable to afford the necessities of life, taxpayers pick up the tab.” The report examined data received from the State of Wisconsin and found that a single Walmart store could cost taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.7 million/year in subsidies.
Walmart’s Path of Environmental Destruction
Despite its ballyhooed sustainability work, Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing, not shrinking. In addition, the company’s low-cost, low-quality products likely lead to more waste as they have to be replaced more frequently.
In May, Walmart pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. The company will pay an $82 million fine. Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said: “By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides, and other materials in violation of federal laws, Walmart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies.”
Walmart finances politicians who fight action to address the climate crisis, including funding the campaigns of some of the most powerful climate change deniers in Congress.
Alleged Bribery and Corruption Abroad
Last year, the New York Times uncovered a massive alleged bribery scheme involving Walmart officials in Mexico. The Times alleged that Walmart paid more than $24 million in bribes to clear the way for the company’s rapid expansion in the company. The story, and subsequent reporting, also revealed that top Walmart officials in the US new about the apparent bribery, but quickly ended an internal investigation. The allegations were not made public until revealed in the media.
Funding a Political Agenda that Hurts Our Communities
The Walmart PAC’s political contributions disproportionately favor anti-immigrant politicians. Until recently, both Walmart and the Walton family were members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization with a history of promoting anti-immigrant model legislation. Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 was written at an ALEC conference in 2009.
Walmart and the Walton family have disproportionately given to anti-woman politicians. Among candidates with scores on the American Association of University Women’s 2012 Congressional scorecard, the majority of the Walmart PAC and Waltons’ contributions went to those with scores of 25 and below out of 100. In fact, over that time period they gave over $1.5 million just to candidates with scores of 0. The scorecard factors in a range of issues including the reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, Planned Parenthood funding, and education.
The majority of the Walmart PAC’s contributions went to candidates with scores of 25 or less (out of 100) on the Human Rights Campaign scorecard. In fact, the PAC gave over $1.5 million between 2005 and 2012 to candidates with scores of 0 alone. The Walton family did even worse, with only 6% of contributions going to members of Congress who support marriage equality.
- Anti-Civil Rights
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights evaluated the 112th Congress based on votes including misguided attempts to protect voter ID laws, attacks on worker rights, the Ryan budget, and extending Bush-era tax cuts. A comparison of this scorecard with the Walmart PAC and Waltons’ contributions from 2005 to 2012 shows that, among candidates with scores, the Walmart PAC and Waltons favored candidates who failed to protect civil rights. In fact, 85% of the Waltons’ contributions went to candidates with scores of 25 below, out of 100.
In addition, Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation were longtime members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is infamous for promoting legislation that advances a conservative ideological agenda and benefits its members at the expense of everyone else.
ALEC helped propagate the notorious “Stand Your Ground” law linked to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012. The law, which initially shielded Martin’s shooter from arrest in weeks following the killing, came out of an ALEC working committee co-chaired by a Walmart executive in 2005.
Other legislation supported by the right-wing group and its members includes the recent round of voter suppression laws introduced in 27 states. Supporters of discriminatory voter ID laws claim they want to reduce voter fraud, but such fraud almost never actually occurs, and never in amounts large enough to impact the result of elections. These laws have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the elderly, and people of color.
In May 2012, amid intense public pressure, Walmart withdrew from ALEC. However, there is no evidence that the Walton Family Foundation has withdrawn from ALEC, despite the fact that civil rights leaders and others have called on them to do so.