– By Jeff Monahan
Look, I’m not a big fan of corporations, but as an American I understand how important they’ve been to the economic growth of our nation. I know it goes against the grain a little to say that to a union audience, but I can at least recognize the benefits of corporate structure. What I can’t stand is the transparent corporate blabber they spit out and expect everyone to take at face value. It assumes the audience is oblivious. It conceals the truth. It takes advantage of their prominence. Sure, there is no law against doing so, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, but supporters of corporations love to take a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” type of attitude.
Take Walmart, for example. I understand their goal is to have the lowest prices anywhere. That’s a good goal – no one wants to pay more than they have to. But don’t go claiming that your mission is to create opportunities so people can live better and then sack your employees when they try to organize. I understand that negotiating with unionized employees can increase costs sometimes, but Walmart has to explain how refusing to recognize a union “helps people live better” at the same time. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Walmart is the world’s biggest employer, after the US and Chinese military. With two million employees around the world, it’s the biggest private sector employer and the biggest retailer. Surely the easiest way to “help people live better” is to pay them properly, as the CEO of rival retailer Costco argues. Walmart pays poverty wages and is notoriously anti-union. A new wave of industrial unrest is challenging this: Walmart is the front line in the battle against low wages.
Walmart’s environmental goals are transparent as well. 100% powered by renewable energy? Zero waste? Oh yeah? By when, Walmart? This is a classic example of a company trying to look good to the public without anyone holding them accountable. They know that no one is going to call them out on it so they’ll make every bland, broad promise they can. Every company would probably like to buy all of its power from renewable sources, and every company would love to create zero waste too. It takes a special commitment to come out and set a measurable goal that can definitively be accomplished by a certain date. Walmart’s third “goal” is just as indeterminate and broad as the first two: “to sell products that sustain people and the environment.” This is a no-brainer statement. Tell me something I don’t know, Walmart.
Within Walmart’s sustainability plan, they state that they want to help farmers in developing countries build business that positively affects their communities. Yet they are opposed to any form of union, even ones that may positively affect communities within the U.S. On another section of the site, Walmart proudly outlines its involvement in the Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, an admirable cause, but hidden in the details below a picture of Indian women is a disclaimer stating that they will not accept proposals from international women’s initiatives, which would, for example, include a country like India.
It’s not the website that bothers me, and it’s not even the self-flattering images they use to depict their “goals.” It’s the underlying assumption that we are too dumb to realize what’s really going on here. It’s the hoping that they can put up this façade and people won’t ask questions about what is going on underneath the surface.
It’s hard to see a tangible difference every day in an international movement, but we can notice the differences we make as individuals each day if we learn how to spot bogus statements from a corporation and remain skeptical of them. It is hard to make our voices heard, but remaining together in thought is solidarity as well – it does not always have to be depicted in protests and picket lines. It takes time but eventually everyone who exploits those in a weaker position will be held accountable.
Photo by OURWalmart