Is Wal-Mart No Longer Evil?

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Wal-Mar is pretty evil. Or that has been a popular perception up until late. There’s an entire Wikipedia article devoted to Wal-Mart’s faults.

Now, the Globe and Mail reports something many probably never expected the consumerist behemoth to do. It’s single-handedly changing the ecological footprints of dozens of companies by the green policies it is starting to implement.

Consider this:

When Wal-Mart announced recently it would carry only two-times-concentrated (or higher) liquid laundry detergent by May, 2008, it set off a reaction that amounts to one giant leap for the environment among manufacturers, packagers and shippers, experts say.

. . .

Wal-Mart’s directive influences not only what suppliers make for its shelves but what they market to the world. By April, 2008, Procter and Gamble will have dropped non-concentrated liquid detergents from all Canadian stores, says Lee Bansil, director of external relations for consumer products giant Procter and Gamble Canada.

In fact, the article claims Wal-Mart is accomplishing something no other company or non-profit has been able to do to date.

Is it too early to stop referring to Wal-Mart as evil? Can a change in environmental policy make up for labour practices or its economic effects in small towns?

23 thoughts on “Is Wal-Mart No Longer Evil?

  1. I read a great article in Wired (?) a year or two ago about how Wal-Mart had tried to make an environmental impact by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. As one point, their enviro-consultant said, “You know, this is nice, but you’re not having anywhere the impact just USING them as you could have MARKETING them.” Wal-Mart moved CF’s to prime retail space with end-cap displays and fact sheets on the environmental and $$ benefits. Sales of CF’s have skyrocketed.

  2. I didn’t realize concentrated laundry detergent did anything for the environment. I buy it because it comes in a smaller bottle, and I live in a tiny apartment.

  3. Wal-Mart may put a good face on it, but there are too many other issues to turn it into a do-gooder.

  4. I recently had a conversation with a man who had just been to China. The story he tells about Walmart’s practices there would make your hair curl. They put on a “green” face here, but they force industry there to do exactly the opposite with their demands for lower prices. They apparently have a habit of negotiating low prices to begin with, then going back part way through the contract and demanding lower costs, and threatening to move their business. This forces businesses in China to cut back on benefits, pay lower wages, and certainly do away with any environmentally needed adaptations, thus leading to a condition of absolute pollution . . . at least according to this traveller I met.

  5. And stops unions from forming, stops treating their employees like crap and aiding and abetting the oppression of the poor in third world countries…

    Yep, you said it Johnna.

  6. If there are problems with this store why not stop buying from them? I have never in these stores I think never will be… I don’t see why people have to go there.

  7. If there are problems concerning how Wal-Mart treats its employees, why do so many people choose to work there?

    People know that Wal-Mart will never pay for PT employees’ health insurance, and will never allow workers to organize, yet they work there anyway.

    Isn’t there something to be said of a company that is willing to employ the (generally) unemployable?

  8. Because it is easy to get a job there. And it seems good, but isn’t so great for everyone. Yes, they make choices, but still they don’t treat their employees so well. It’s just somewhat reprehensible.

  9. One reason, Bull Moose, is they cause the closing of other businesses, thus providing less job diversity in a local economy, and nearly forcing people to have to work there.

  10. …nearly forcing people to have to work there.

    “Forcing” is a pretty strong word that conjures up an image of press gangs rounding up unwilling people to work there. Adding the ambiguous modifier “nearly” makes the image less laughable, but still hard to imagine.

    Look I’m no fan of Wal-Mart. I fought for 2 years to keep one out of our neighborhood. But when someone accepts employment with their eyes open and knows the terms before they start, don’t they bear responsibility for their situation? How do you justify shifting responsibility to the company? If it were a company run by an individual, would that make a difference?

  11. When there is no where else to work and you need to pay the bills and feed your family, yes that would be forcing them to work there. Or nearly, anyway.

  12. When there is no where else to work …

    Mary, I have yet to find a town where Wal-Mart is the only place to work. It may be a place that will hire readily without much required by way of experience, compared to most other businesses.

    But, “no where else to work?” Seriously?

    I’ve known plenty of families that needed to pay the bills and feed the family and they didn’t work at Wal-Mart because they knew it wasn’t for them. They were quite desperate and did what they needed to get by, but they weren’t “forced” to work at Wal-Mart. Not even “nearly.” :)

  13. Yes, seriously. In some of the very small towns.

    I personally don’t experience this. I don’t go to walmart and would never work there, but it does push out small business.

  14. Mary, not that I doubt you, because I hear it all the time as a common argument against Wal-Mart; I just have never seen concrete proof of this.

    I’ve lived and worked in many very small towns in many states in the U.S. where Wal-Mart is the main attraction. It does change the retail landscape of the town, and some businesses close thereafter. But to imply that Wal-Mart is the only employer in these towns (even very small ones) strains credulity without proof.

    I think the problem has more to do with an increasingly mobile and urban society abandoning the rural (“very small towns”). For example, the town where I grew up in the midwest US had a population of 10,000 when I was a child. There were 2 family owned drug-stores, two family owned jewelers, at least three specialty hardware stores, four grocery stores, two historic hotels and a couple of motels, numerous boutique clothing and shoe stores, and a drive-in theater. The big excitement in town came when a McDonald’s and Kmart opened when I was in high school.

    Now, there is one drug store, one jeweler (I think 1 is still open), 1 hardware store, one grocery store, a couple of motels, no clothing stores except for the Kmart (which is struggling), and the population is down to about 8,000 and dwindling.

    Wal-Mart had nothing to do with this town’s decline and the loss of jobs. It’s a symptom of a rapidly globalizing economy, and it’s just too easy to single out Wal-Mart as the culprit. It also ignores the other problems that contribute to the economic plight of rural towns.

    Thanks for the discussion on this once-lifeless thread. :) I’ll go back to letting this sleeping dog lie.

  15. I didn’t say they are the only employer, but are often the only viable one for many (not all) people. I am also not saying there aren’t other factors, but big box stores certainly increase the likelihood and speed of this happening.

  16. (!sarcasm alert!) Oh, you silly Sievers and your grudge against Wal-Mart! You’ve provided some much needed comic relief on this Friday the 13th.

    Seriously though Kim, it merely sounds like an incompetent manager and an overzealous PD.

    Different story if it were company policy to refuse to cash large money orders and press charges against the presenters for forgery. I would agree that a company wide policy is evil. But with real evil in the world, it’s distracting to call a bloated corporate bureaucracy and incompetent local managers “evil.”

    Here where I live, a gentleman ordered a burrito from a Taco Bell and tried to pay for his $1.98 order with a $2 bill (legal US tender and still in circulation although no longer printed by the Treasury). The store manager called mall security and threatened to call the police on the man claiming he was trying to pass a forged bill. Does that make Taco Bell evil also?

  17. The money order fiasco didn’t make them evil. They were already evil. It’s what evil people do. Everything Wal-Mart does is evil. Even saying “hello” when you walk in the door is evil. Or giving you too much change is evil. They’re just evil. EEEEEvil. Spawn of Satan kind of evil.

  18. I have no grudge against Walmart. Just disdain. For the cheapness of their products (yeah I know, I still shop at other big box stores, just not quite as big) and their over riding attitude.

    Oh boy, no that makes the employee of Taco Bell just REALLY uneducated. But that’s a whole other story altogether, the poor quality of education (when people can’t figure out simple things, know little history and can’t spell worth a darn).

  19. Walmart is a huge company with alot of money behind them. Unfortunatley they offer products at a price that most can afford but do not source them ethically. It is very hard for people at the lower end of the socio economic scale to be able to vote with their feet (shop elsewhere) as it is very often cost prohibative.

  20. Buying at Wal-Mart is cost prohibitive.

    Why buy 10 widgets for $1 in a year at Wal-Mart because they keep breaking when you can buy a better quality one for $7 at a small competitor, which will last longer than a year?

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