Thursday, February 17, 2005

Walmart's Sweetheart Deal

Please don't patronize Walmart. Please. Walmart is the main reason we have overseas outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. They pressure manufacturers to give them low prices so that the companies have to use sweatshop labor overseas in order to meet Walmart's demands. Then other companies move their manufacturing overseas in order to compete. Walmart is terrible to its workers and engages in union-busting activities. Because Walmart offers such low wages and because benefits are so expensive (read: unaffordable) the community at large ends up subsidizing Walmart's labor. We pay for the food stamps Walmart associates apply for. We pay for the Medicaid and emergency care they use because they can't afford medical insurance.

And now we learn that Walmart violates child labor laws. Jonathan Tasini writes about this in an article entitled, "Walmart's Sweetheart Deal" published by TomPaine.

The administration has gotten used to the idea that it can hoodwink us (weapons of mass destruction, a phony Social Security “crisis”), which is part of the lens through which we should view the recent Wal-Mart scandal. After Wal-Mart was found breaking the law on child labor, the government fined the company a measly $135,000 (and change) and signed a deal with Wal-Mart that says "Next time we want to investigate what laws you might be breaking, we’re going to tell you about the investigation before we do it"—just to give you enough time to cover your tracks, shred documents or muddle the trail.

Of course, this is absurd and can only exist in a world where a tax cut for the rich is called the “Jobs and Growth Plan.” But there is a different part of this whole game that has annoyed me for a long time and has been missed by the media coverage (which has been scant). While The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse deserves kudos for bringing to light the story of the Department of Labor’s promise to alert Wal-Mart prior to launching an investigation, the big point is this: Wal-Mart endangers children and then gets away with a fine of 135 grand and change. Does anyone have a calculator to figure out what percentage that financial “penalty” represents to a company that had sales of $256 billion in 2003 or to the five Walton kids who are worth almost $100 billion? And, by the way, that damn fine is considered a business expense that Wal-Mart deducts from its taxes (unlike poor slobs like you and me, who cannot deduct legal fines).

Moreover, as part of the deal with the government, the company signed a paper that says it denied any wrongdoing. So the whole game is a hoax and charade. Everyone knows Wal-Mart broke the law. But using spin and doublespeak befitting a political race, the government says Wal-Mart will pay a fine, making it appear as if the government is really doing something about an act the company continues to say it didn’t do. It’s appalling.

It is appalling. Do read the whole article for the whole picture. And I said it before and I'll say it again: Please don't shop at Walmart.

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