Archived Sections, Commentary

Why do we shop there?

A company like Wal-Mart should be expected to behave justly

Reprinted with permission from the February 2006 issue of Twin Cities Religion and Labor Network Newsletter.
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Many of us have heard about the negative impact that Wal-Mart has on a community. We’ve heard about the low wages Wal-Mart pays. We’ve heard that they don’t offer affordable benefits for their workers. We’ve heard about Wal-Mart’s ability to put small local shops out of business in a matter of months. We even know about the sweatshop conditions workers are forced to endure in China and Bangladesh in order to make a shirt or pair of pants for one of the 3,800 Wal-Mart stores in the United States.
So why do so many of us still shop at Wal-Mart?
To date, it’s estimated that between 87-93% of households in the United States have, at one time, shopped at Wal-Mart. And while many would argue that one trip every once in a while isn’t so bad, it’s worth noting a few hard facts.
* Every sale last year helped Wal-Mart reach a $288 billion record in sales.
* Every time someone spends a dollar at a neighborhood Wal-Mart, they send 85 cents back to Wal-Mart headquarters instead of into the local economy.
* Every dollar spent at Wal-Mart is a show of support for a company whose practices encourage the growth of sweatshop labor abroad, where workers make next to nothing, all in the name of driving down overhead costs.
* Every dollar spent at Wal-Mart supports a company that pays many of their workers below the federal minimum wage and offers benefits so expensive that workers end up on some form of state or federal aid.
Of course, for some people, especially in small towns and rural areas, it’s Wal-Mart or nothing. Wal-Mart chases out competition until it’s the only option in town. Wal-Mart workers themselves can only afford to shop at the discounter that signs their checks, being so low-income they have no other option.
However, most of us can afford to make a choice. And members of our congregations can make a choice as well. The challenge is to frame the choice as a moral decision rather than an economic one. In the religious community, we must ask key questions.
n Do Wal-Mart’s values reflect the values of my religious tradition?
* Do Wal-Mart’s values reflect my community’s values?
n How can I raise the moral questions that need to be raised in this situation with members of my congregation or my neighbors?
* What concrete actions can I take to share my values on this issue and make change happen?
The next time you go shopping, consider this two-part challenge. First, discontinue shopping at Wal-Mart until its policies change. Second, get involved. Corporations are legally viewed as human persons. If Wal-mart has the status of a human person, it is a human person that needs to undergo conversion! If we hope to see the nation’s largest employer undergo such a conversion, members of the religious community need to be at the forefront of the movement.
Religious leaders and people from congregations like yours have already been involved in efforts to change Wal-Mart’s ways. The Twin Cities Religion and Labor Network is now officially a co-sponsor of the local effort to get Wal-Mart to do the right thing. This organization will be working hard to give you the opportunity to get involved. Call Matt Gladue, 612/332-2055, or Jenny Shegos, “Wake Up Wal-Mart” organizer, 651/451-6240. They’ll offer suggestions on ways to get involved. Or, sign up at www.wakeupwalmart.com.
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Twin Cities Religion and Labor Network is a non-profit organization with offices in space provided by Bethany Lutheran Church, 2511 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis. For more information, visit www.tcrln.org.