I’m not alone in wishing for changes at Wal-mart. In Social Policy’s fall 2005 issue, there is a series of articles on the company, which, at current trends, can account for over three per cent of the US’s gross domestic product.
The positives of Wal-mart stem from the late Sam Walton himself, and the idea of the American Dream. But the negatives are emerging, even if ‘an estimated 80 percent of American households report shopping there at least once a year and 90% plan to shop there in the future.’
The negatives, however, do not come from Wal-mart’s actions abroad, such as its failure to pledge to pay workers maternity leave in Bangladesh, in deﬁance of the law. But Americans are concerned about their own:
Facts about Wal-Mart’s record are key to opening consumers up to action campaigns and changing their shopping patterns. Our research has shown that certain facts are particularly salient in changing consumers’ perceptions of Wal-Mart. Among these are:
—Eliminating U.S. manufacturing jobs
—Deliberately limiting employee hours to avoid paying benefits
—Discriminating against female employees
… However, some facts, while alarming, are also hard for consumers to believe, such as the practice of locking employees in on the night shift.
So how much consumer power is needed to change things?
I argue it’s happening already. Consumer backlashes in the 1990s hurt the revenues of Levi Strauss and Nike—call it karma, or call it the success of the consumer movement and organizations such as the National Labor Committee. McDonald’s is still reeling from Super Size Me, shown at Sundance in 2004—that has meant that I have not eaten there since that ﬁlm. Granted, these companies have found ways to bounce back, and Wal-mart probably will, too, but all need to be very aware of how their actions are perceived by the public. If brand equity goes down—and it does when there are misdeeds that affect the existing image negatively—then it actually follows (extending my research) that the customer base will shrink.
It’s become very hard to hide these in the 2000s, as word gets out—whether it’s through bloggers (and the term blogging will mainstream in the second world this year) or emailers.
Social Policy’s concern is to bridge the digital divide, and argues that the solution is not to collapse the chain. One idea is cited:
We should connect this campaign to the broader values debate. Many voters are longing for reconnection to community and some sanctuary from the greed in popular culture. A good example of connecting to this debate is the “Love Your Mom, not Wal-Mart” campaign pledge not to buy gifts for Mother’s Day because of Wal-Mart’s treatment of workers, particularly women. This is a way to link a relatively easy consumer behavior with broader values and to the concerns that the values underlying these holidays have been drowned out by commercialism. We should extend these pledges to other secular holidays. Extending the pledges to religious holidays is also worth exploring as a way to tap into moral and religious values.
Others are at the site, though you will need to register. I haven’t yet—there’s a bit more to do here at work to keep my inbox at a reasonable level.
But for further reading, surf to the letters’ page at the New York Review of Books here, which extends some of the arguments. Posted by Jack Yan, 04:33
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