Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price

2005, Movie, NR, 97 mins

Review

WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE
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At the start of intrepid muckraker Robert Greenwald's awareness-building documentary, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott addresses an ecstatic crowd of employees to announce yet another year of unparalleled growth for the world's largest store. And though this success also makes Wal-Mart a bigger target of envy and bad feelings, he exhorts the crowd to stay the course: Wal-Mart is vital to families struggling to get by on a budget; to the suppliers who depend on Wal-Mart to sell their goods; and to the "associates" who depend on Wal-Mart for a paycheck. But is it possible that rather than serve these dependents, Wal-Mart is actually destroying them? How can a store that drives down property values and kills off mom-and-pop businesses that can't afford to compete with Wal-Mart's high-volume, low-price strategy be good for a community? What value could this company have to suppliers forced to outsource manufacturing to third-world countries in order to keep their wholesale prices in line with what Wal-Mart is willing to pay? And those cheerful, blue-vested associates who are routinely cheated out of overtime; their desperately needed paychecks keep the average hourly sales employee well below the federal poverty level and few can afford the company's notorious health-care program (Wal-Mart actually encourages its associates to apply for taxpayer-funded public-assistance programs to help make ends meet). Forget unionzing: At the slightest whiff of union activity, a Wal-Mart rapid-response team is dispatched from the store's home base in Bentonville, Ark., to spy on and fire anyone suspected of organizing, and to hire new employees to help lower the percentage of pro-union voters. With great irony, Greenwald intercuts such bewildering facts with warm and folksy Wal-Mart ads that ooze founder Sam Walton's bogus populism, as well as clips of CEO Lee flat-out lying about his company's concern for the environment, developing countries and the quality of life of its employees. If this sounds like a horror story, it is, particularly for those former employees — especially the women routinely passed over for promotion — and managers who help tell the story. Those images of empty towns where Wal-Mart has already struck could have been pulled directly from a postapocalyptic nightmare. It is hard, however, to understand folks like the employees of the now-defunct H&H Hardware story in Middleton, Ohio, a 43-year-old family business that folded after Wal-Mart opened on the edge of town: Card-carrying conservatives, they proudly elect CEOs-turned-politicians who favor corporate deregulation and provide government subsidies for even more Wal-Marts. These good people cast their votes, close up shop and then scratch their heads, wondering how something like Wal-Mart could happen in a place like America. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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