COLUMN: Shopping at Walmart is voting for poor working conditions
- Yes 72%
- No 28%
25 total votes.
On May 22, the Norman City Council voted to grant Walmart’s request to re-zone a five-acre plot of land on 36th Avenue and Rock Creek Road in preparation for a Walmart neighborhood market grocery store.
Residents of the surrounding area protested the vote, claiming that Walmart does not engage in ethical business practices. Opposing voices also noted that another Walmart is just two miles south of the planned location.
Protests against Walmart are certainly nothing new; Walmart is a lightning rod for collective anger against globalization, wage deflation and concerns over worker’s health and safety.
By singling out Walmart stores, protestors reveal much more about their own ignorance, laziness and hypocrisy than anything else.
Walmart is certainly a huge player in global markets and is a huge importer of goods from lesser-developed countries through its supplier network. The effect of this amount of capital influx into countries around the world has led to large amounts of job creation in many countries.
It is very easy for middle-aged suburbanites to become upset over working conditions they have zero direct experience with, but many of the workers themselves do not feel the same way.
When a Mongolian student at a U.S. workshop on globalization heard U.S. college students denounce sweatshops, he shouted: “Please give us your sweatshops.”
Moreover, these practices are not unique to Walmart. Thinking that shopping at Target or JCPenny somehow helps the problem is ridiculous. How many anti-globalization protests on campus have we seen using poster board and markers bought from these same stores? Walmart is simply an easy target for those who do not want to change their own lifestyle to reflect their so-called “beliefs.”
The one justified criticism coming out the anti-Walmart crowd is over domestic labor concerns. Many critics and watchdog organizations for paying low wages, not provided benefits and unpaid overtime have cited Walmart.
Another huge issue with Walmart wages is that those wages force many employees to take advantage of state aid. These wages also are in line with federal minimum wage.
Walmart is certainly a mixed bag when it comes to domestic labor concerns. It employs and trains huge numbers of workers, both skilled and unskilled. It also takes full advantage of those workers in depressing wages and fighting labor unions. In this way, Walmart carries with it substantially more baggage than a regional grocery store.
It is important to remember that Walmart must be compared to other retailers. Unskilled workers at other grocery stores and retail outlets make only marginally better wages with very similar working conditions. In other words, a checker at Walmart is not particularly different than a checker at Homeland.
Again, because of its size and national scope, Walmart becomes a focus for a large campaign that should be directed toward national labor standards and governmental oversight. If the minimum wage were raised, all companies, not just Walmart, would comply.
Possibly one of the most dangerous aspects of Walmart protests is that they detract attention from these larger issues that are systemic to many companies in the United States. By focusing so heavily on one retailer, we ignore the larger problem of national worker’s rights.
The most incredible aspect of the Walmart issue is, to me, the extreme simplicity of the solution. Do not shop there. The small groups of people who decide to protest store opening are completely ignorant to the fact that they are in the extreme minority.
Every day, millions of shoppers decide, of their own free will, to shop at a Walmart store. Denying these individuals this ability based on the concerns of a small group of people would be ridiculous.
I do not shop at Walmart if I can help it. I simply don’t like to. On the rare occasion that I need tent stakes and a gallon of lemonade at 2 a.m., guess where I go. To deny the ability of the American consumer to destroy a store with their pocketbooks is idiocy.
When is the last time you shopped at a Woolworth’s? People didn’t like the store, so they did not shop there. As if by magic, Woolworth’s is gone.
Anger over Walmart is just another example of those privileged enough to have the luxury to shop elsewhere, attempting to act as the conscience of the rest of society.
Mark Brockway is a political science senior.