In 1962, Arkansas businessman Sam Walton opened the first Walmart discount store, setting in motion the rapid ascendance of a corporate giant that would redefine markets around the world. With its focus on competitive prices and vast distribution networks that revolutionized the industry, Walmart grew over the course of the 20th century to become the world’s largest company.
Today, its retail empire covers 15 countries with over 8,900 stores employing 2.2 million people. Like all empires, its success is built on contradictions and exploitation.
It’s no secret that Walmart’s low-cost business model relies heavily on paying its employees what can reasonably be called poverty wages. The average worker makes about $8.80 an hour. Even a full-time employee makes roughly $15,500 per year, well below the official poverty line for a family of four. Walmart’s low pay and poor-to-nonexistent benefits forces many of its workers to turn to public assistance in order to survive.
These conditions extend beyond the boundaries of Walmart’s own business. As a dominating force in the global economy, Walmart is a standard bearer across multiple industries. Its model of cost-cutting and squeezing workers has been adopted by competitors, suppliers and contractors alike.
~ from Retail Rebellion by Brian Tierney ~
What Tierney outlines above is the prime reason I try not to shop at Walmart. It's not just that Walmart treats the vast majority of its own workers like dirt, but that this same disregard for the needs and rights of workers filters down to many of Walmart's suppliers! Walmart has created an entire business environment that seeks to wring as much blood, sweat, toil and money from the very people who make Walmart possible. The uber-wealthy Walton Family wouldn't have their billions of dollars without the people who make or grow all the stuff they sell.
Why is it that the workers who make our lives convenient and sustainable are the ones who typically earn the smallest wages? While many of these workers are what is called unskilled labor, why should that factor in? They are DOING the work and, without their work, the overall economy would grind to a halt.
Imagine if every fast food worker, nurse's aide, janitor, farmworker, barista, bartender, waitress/waiter and sales clerk walked off the job for a week...or a month. The vast majority of our service industry would grind to a halt. You couldn't pick up a latte in the morning, a burger and fries for lunch, a blender or a pair of jeans in the evening or do innumerable other things that are part of your routine life.
And yet, these supposed faceless folks are the ones we tend to treat the worst (in more ways than one)!