Blog: Wal-Mart under attack again

Catherine Sleep | 9 August 2006

Wal-Mart is an easy target for campaigning groups eager to improve working conditions for low-paid employees. It’s a massive international company, it has a huge workforce and it can be a tremendous force for good.

But an increasingly vocal lobby would have us believe it’s exactly the opposite. Two stories in today’s news cover opposition to its plans. One concerns its salary structure, the other its expansion strategy.

This weekend I finally got around to watching the 2005 movie Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I was hoping for a balanced commentary on the methods the company adopted to become the world’s largest retailer, but instead I got an emotive, one-sided corporate assassination. Yes, it is sad, very sad indeed, to see longstanding independent businesses shut down as Wal-Mart steamrolls into town. It is equally heartrending to hear ex-employees relate how tough they found their dealings with the company, but professional journalism dictates that both sides of any dispute are put forward.

The emotional handling of scenes showing the treatment of Wal-Mart workers in China could also have used some context, as could the whole chunk concerning anti-union activities.

What undermined the film further was the blatant way in which videos of CEO Lee Scott giving a pep talk at the company jamboree were edited in such a way as to make him look a bit of a plonker, frankly. The film omits some of the big questions as well: why has Wal-Mart stayed the course if it’s such a Bad Thing? Who shops there? Why does it gain so much state assistance to build new stores?

I can’t help thinking the acclaimed director Robert Greenwald could have done better. But maybe I’m being overly critical because I’m a food journalist familiar with the issues. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost


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