The season of giving thanks and gifts is fast approaching and, as always, will include the retelling of the classic Charles Dickens tale “A Christmas Carol.” If the play were to be recast today, I offer an excellent candidate for the miserly, despicable role of Ebenezer Scrooge – Wal-Mart.
When examined, the similarities between the two are strikingly numerous. Bob Cratchit worked in substandard conditions and brought home wages that kept his family in a state below the poverty line. Tiny Tim suffered due to a lack of employee-provided health insurance. Even people who did not work for Scrooge were affected by his complete disregard for humanity. All the while Scrooge’s purse grew exponentially larger.
Wal-Mart is guilty of the same sins – only on a much grander scale. If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be the 19th-largest economy in the world, somewhere around the size of Sweden or Belgium. Such a sizeable sum of money is able to easily manipulate political situations. As the world’s largest retailer, they also greatly affect the labor practices of their competitors and their suppliers. In both areas, they have a grotesquely harmful record.
The home of the happy smiley face often is the cause for anything but smiles. Illegal foreign workers are abused in stores where the racks are filled with clothing produced in sweatshops. Employees make barely enough to shop at the store for their families and any attempts to unionize or even investigate conditions are firmly and illegally stopped.
Market pressures from Wal-Mart’s insanely low labor costs have driven grocery stores to drastically cut the wages and benefits of their workers. They are now in a bitter battle with the unionized employees. Sam Walton’s brainchild has even made contributions to campaigns to keep other companies from providing a living wage.
Although their predatory practices have gotten press in the past, they still continue, as does their deplorable labor practices. Obviously, its going to take something more than press coverage to fix the situation.
Unfortunately for the millions of Tiny Tim’s and Bob Cratchit’s, there are no ghosts of Christmas spirit coming to visit Wal-Mart executives in their sleep.
Instead, change is only going to be effected by a statement in the language Wal-Mart understands – money.
Labor practices are only going to change if consumers take the initiative to stop shopping at Wal-Mart. The workers can’t do it themselves – they can’t afford it.
Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.