27 November 2012

up against the wal[mart]

ok, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know where i stand, but if you're new, let me be up front: i hate walmart. pretty much everything they do, i would do the reverse. anything they hold to be a virtue strikes me as a vice and, i would dare to say, their management would believe the same about me. that hasn't stopped me from courting them. i've worked with companies who supplied them and my personal efforts were dedicated to increasing their business. but that's not what made me hate them. if anything, working closely with them gave me a sense of admiration for their ruthless efficiency. in all honesty, it's like a newbie fbi agent looking at the work of an adept serial killer. it's hard not to be impressed by the craft, divorced from the real-world results.

but somehow, when i first heard the story of a garment factory burning to the ground and killing over a hundred people in bangladesh, i couldn't help but think that walmart's hand was in there, pulling the puppet's strings in the background.

and so they were.

and if there is anything that strikes me as worse than the largest corporation in the world being involved with a factory where supervisors barricaded the doors as the building burned around them, it's the fact that said corporation has chosen to adopt a position of ignorance, claiming that their supplier outsourced to this factory without consent and that they had absolutely no idea what was going on.

i call malarkey.

walmart's position with its vendors is that from one year to another, they must offer "more for the same, or the same for less". that means that the price either has to decrease, or walmart has to get more product for the same amount of money. it flies in the face of economic theory, which indicates that a healthy economy carries a nominal level of inflation [and the attendant price increases]. where exactly did they think that these savings were coming from? the owners and managers of walmart aren't stupid. they are perfectly aware that the demand that all suppliers lower prices means that jobs are handed off to factories with sub-standard [and possibly illegal] modes of operating. but as long as they get what they want, they're willing to look the other way.

i've already ranted about this, but i think it's worth calling attention to this story, because, ultimately, it's important to understand that this factory fire isn't a tragic accident, but a natural outgrowth of walmart's corporate policies. at a corporate level, this sort of incident has been deemed an acceptable risk in the name of maintaining the company's pricing policy. walmart will do the expected public mea culpas and insist that they didn't really know what was going on, but know this: it's a load of b.s. everyone, including those at walmart, know exactly what is going on. and while what happened in bangladesh may well have been an accident, in the sense that it was not intentional, it should by no means be a surprise.

ironically, by artificially suppressing inflation and holding domestic workers' wages at a lower rate than they should be, walmart creates a marketplace where consumers simply can't afford things that are made at properly managed and carefully vetted factories. it's a very tricky situation where both sides of the tug-of-war have to be adjusted at the same time.

but one thing is clear: walmart is hurting both sides, while enriching themselves. and that's the sort of thing that people really can't afford to endorse.

[fyi, this is not to say that all large retailers are inherently bad. costco, for instance, is much tougher on their overseas suppliers while at the same time providing a higher standard of living to their workers and earning less margin on sales than walmart. so there.]

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