Sunday, July 25, 2004

The New York Times > Guest Columnist BARBARA EHRENREICH: Wal-Mars Invades Earth

The New York Times > Opinion > Guest Columnist: Wal-Mars Invades Earth:
"Wal-Mart is frequently lauded for bringing consumerism to the masses, but more than half of its own 'associates,' as the employees are euphemistically termed, cannot afford the company's health insurance, never mind its Faded Glory jeans. With hourly wages declining throughout the economy, Wal-Mart - the nation's largest employer - is already seeing its sales go soft. "

In my own brief stint at the company in 2000, I worked with a woman for whom a $7 Wal-Mart polo shirt, of the kind we had been ordered to wear, was an impossible dream: It took us an hour to earn that much. Some stores encourage their employees to apply for food stamps and welfare; many take second jobs. Critics point out that Wal-Mart has consumed $1 billion in public subsidies, but that doesn't count the government expenditures required to keep its associates alive. Apparently the Wal-Martians, before landing, failed to check on the biological requirements for human life.

But a creature afflicted with the appetite of a starved hyena doesn't have time for niceties. Wal-Mart is facing class-action suits for sex discrimination and nonpayment for overtime work (meaning no payment at all), as well as accusations that employees have been locked into stores overnight, unable to get help even in medical emergencies. These are the kinds of conditions we associate with third world sweatshops, and in fact Wal-Mart fails at least five out of 10 criteria set by the Worker Rights Consortium, which monitors universities' sources of logoed apparel - making it the world's largest sweatshop.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/25/opinion/25ehre.html
con·cept: The New York Times > Guest Columnist BARBARA EHRENREICH: Wal-Mars Invades Earth