David and Goliath

         I have a love for documentaries that just open my eyes. This movie was one that explored an idea that I was already interested in, but I did not have all the facts to back up what I thought about the huge corporation of Wal-Mart. Walt-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005), directed by Robert Greenwald, was entertaining and educational at the same time. Wal-Mart is described as being a David and Goliath situation because the big company is putting out many small businesses. The movie does not only discuss that issue, but how Wal-Mart treats its US employees, factory workers in other nations, to harming the environment in which its stores are located.

         The movie opens with this heart-warming story of the members of the Hunter family that owns a hardware store. The store had been open for business for three generations of their family. They knew that eventually Wal-Mart would be moving into town, and there was nothing to stop it. So they prepared their employees to deliver quality service to their customers, something Wal-Mart cannot always guarantee. However, despite all these efforts, the Hunter family's hardware store was closed after forty-three years of being open for business. The store's building had also depreciated; when a Wal-Mart moves into a town, many locally owned businesses close; and there are a lot of buildings that sit vacant for a long time. Many small business owners and employees were interviewed at the time, and the majority of them think that Wal-Mart is a monopoly and should be stopped by the government.

         Next the movie shifted to discussing the topic of Wal-Mart's employees. Wal-Mart executives like to keep their employees at part-time status. Even their full-time employees are considered full-time if they work twenty-eight hours a week. The executives intentionally keep the number of employees down at Wal-Mart stores so they can get more work for less employee payroll costs, which include health benefits. Even worse, many employees cannot afford the poor quality health insurance that the company offers. To top all this off, Wal-Mart executives actually encourage employees that cannot afford insurance to seek out government options such as food stamps, government subsidized housing, WIC enrollment, or even Medicaid. The makers of the film listed most of the states and how many Wal-Mart employees are on various programs. The filmmakers also calculated that $1,557,000,000.00 is spent a year nationwide by taxpayers to pay just for Wal-Mart employees and their children through government programs.

         Wal-Mart executives are apparently anti-union because they address this issue using different tactics. Some of these tactics include pressuring employees, encouraging no unions in training videos; and spying on employees, using undercover people and cameras. A motto that is supposed to be used with managers is to "do more with less," which gets interpreted as dealing with employees. Many mangers will ask employees to work off of the clock, for fear of having to pay them more for overtime. If that employee will not do it, then he or she is informed that there are plenty of people that need a job that would work off of the clock. Wal-Mart has also encountered several law suits from employees claiming sexual discrimination and law suits from hiring illegal immigrants to clean their stores.

         The movie then depicts the Esry family that had owned three IGA grocery stores. The family members had given good benefits to their employees and had even thrown Christmas parties during the evening when they would close the store for the evening so everyone could attend. Nevertheless, those three IGA stores closed after having been open for forty years when a Wal-Mart opened in their town. They Esry family members could not receive any subsidies from the town to help their stores stay open. On the other hand, Wal-Mart store managers typically receive subsidies when they come into a town to help pay for parking, grass surrounding the store, and sometimes even plumbing. Nationwide this money could have been used to help pay for more police, teachers, or even helping run a town's recreational department.

         Despite being granted these subsidies, Wal-Mart executives are not usually environmentally friendly. They had been slapped with many fines, cease and desist orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. An example the film gave was Wal-Mart managers who kept pallets of pesticides and herbicides outside of their store in the parking lot. The rain would come down on these pallets and then wash into storm drains, which carry off the water to local rivers that are often sources for drinking water. It seems that if people go to the media with things like this, it is more effective than trying to contact anyone that works with the corporate headquarters. They seem to have an "apparent disregard for the environment."

         Some of the most disturbing parts of the movie occurred when the film makers interviewed factory workers in other countries and showed their working conditions. First they showed China, which ships many products to Wal-Mart to sell. The workers, who lived in an apartment building for factory workers, had the cost of rent deducted from their wages, which were less than 3.00 a day. They were also instructed to lie when observers came into the factory. They were told to say they work only six days a week instead of the seven that they actually labored. If they lied well, the workers were rewarded. However, if they did not lie and were found out, they would be severely punished or even fired. Because of these low wages and deplorable working conditions, it costs 18 cents to produce a toy the workers create in that factory that retails for $14.98 in Wal-Mart. Next shown was Bangladesh where the workers labor from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. under horrible conditions, including being beaten by their supervisors. In this clothing factory, the employees only make 13-17 cents an hour. Finally, with a different perspective, a man that held a position with Wal-Mart to ensure the working conditions in factories in Mexico was actually humane. He said that he would speak with employees who were so nice and go back to his hotel room and cry himself to sleep because of the miserable conditions under which they had to work while being paid such low wages. Because he had naively in Wal-Mart, he mistakenly thought that the executives would correct those problems when he reported them. He did not anticipate being fired from his position with the company. However, he was fired for telling the truth.

         Wal-Mart store managers were in helping their customers, who were experiencing a larger amount of crimes in the parking lots nationwide. These crimes included kidnappings, rapes, murder, and burglary. Wal-Mart had internal documents that claimed that 80% of their crimes were exterior and that if the store managers had had people to patrol those errors; the crime rate would be little to non-existent. However, even though a lot of stores have cameras outside, no one is watching them until later when they are monitoring for possible union activities.

         This wonderful documentary really shows Americans what they are putting their dollars towards when they head to their neighborhood Wal-Mart stores. Is it really worth it to save three cents on something if it comes from a "sweat shop" factory in China or in other third-world countries? I think not. More people need to know far more about the places in which they shop so they can be more educated about their purchasing decisions. This is an excellent movie!

Kristin Windsor

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