Monday, October 5, 2009

WalMart - Evil Incarnate! Or Maybe Just a Really Good Company - Part 2

In part 1, I started my completely unresearched rebuttal of Wake-Up Walmart's (WUW) website. Let me emphasize that I spent no time actually reasearching any of the claims they made (so they may be wrong), all I am doing is applying logic and reasoning to the statements they make to support their cause. So I'll continue on in the Community Impact section:

14. Walmart drives down wages and increases poverty in communities. To begin, they cite some statistics of retail, general merchandising, and grocery wages going down by as much as 10% in counties that built Walmart's. Well, to understand this we would need more information. If you read part 1, then you know that I have no problem with Walmart paying 16% less than the average of other retailers. I will state that it makes perfect sense (using supply and demand) for the wages to go down. Workers are subject to supply and demand just like products are. And the two can move in opposite directions (if lots of people demand Walmart products, the pressure is for upward price if supply remains constant, if lots of people want to work at Walmart, the demand for higher wages goes down since there is someone else who will do the job cheaper). Let's say your county only has a couple of big box stores and 500 people employed in the retail/general merchandise field. If Walmart comes in, and builds a new store with 300 employees, then there has been a net increase in the number of low skill jobs, but a decrease in the number of available people for those jobs (unless Walmart displaces 300 or more of the existing jobs). The previous positions were already filled with the most highly skilled of the available low skilled labor force, so Walmart (offering lower wages) is forced to higher even lower skilled workers. Therefore, the overall average skillset of the employed labor force goes down. More people may be employed, but it includes more of the bottom rungs than before. This provides downward pressure on wages. This is still a good thing because more people are employed and the county probably has a net economic benefit from more people being employed.
The other fact that they mention is that counties with the most Walmarts experienced greater increases in family-poverty rates. Well, that doesn't mean they are cause and effect. It could be that Walmart purposely targets new stores to middle and lower class areas exactly because that is who their customers are, I just can't see them opening a store on 5th Avenue.

15. Money spent at Walmart does not stay in the community. I was rather surprised that it took them so long to get back to the Mom and Pop argument. Their argument is that in Virginia 60 percent of money spent downtown, stays downtown, whereas just 6 percent of money at big box stores (glad it's not all Walmart's fault this time) stays in the community. I don't know about you but the types of businesses that you can spend money on downtown are not the types of businesses that Walmart competes with. The businesses in my city's downtown area are bars, corner cafe's, bail bonds, attorneys, accountants, etc. So let's look at a hypothetical of Mom & Pop retailers and see how much money stays "in the community." First, right off of the bat, Mom and Pop need to procure their merchandise from somewhere, unless they make it themselves (highly unlikely since they are running their store). That could be anywhere between 40 and 80% (40% if it is just raw materials that are going to be finished, 80% if it is complete products that are just going to be marked up) off the top that is going to somewhere besides the community. Then there is the tax man to pay, which is probably going to take 20-50% depending on where they are located, the local government would be taking the least portion of this. We have utilities (electricity, gas, water) which most likely is being produced outside the community, say 5%. And any host of a number of other expenses that are spent outside of "the community." What you find is that 5-10% of the money that is spent at a Mom & Pop store actually stays in the community. Why? What some people fail to realize is that we no longer live in an era of self-sufficient cities. That era died with the invention of the railroad (or ocean going freight) about 200 years ago.

16. Walmart negatively impacts the environment, traffic, and sprawl. And to support this they prove that Walmart has violated the Clean Water Act. No mention of how Walmart has "forced" suppliers to use less packaging (which has significantly decreased the amount of waste going to landfills). Yes, they violated the Clean Water Act, and if you actually read the government regulations you would find that it is relatively easy to violate most all of them. Have you ever wondered why you have to put up with ridiculous rules at work like not putting light bulbs in the trash? It is because it would be a violation of some regulation that private citizens in their own home are exempt from. I asked the company I worked for if they could pay me to take their "hazardous waste" (lightbulbs, batteries, etc) and dump it in my trash at home (which is perfectly legal). Unfortunately, they didn't go for it (it would probably violate some regulation). Also San Fransisco found increased costs of $256 million for road repair and "environmental degradation." I would say that number is dubios at best. I wonder what the cost impact of having the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone is due to the road repair and environmental degradation caused by the increased number of people who flock to those areas?

17. Walmart forced small businesses to close. Studies in Iowa show some towns lost 47% of their retail trade after 10 years of a Walmart store being built nearby. Once again, one would have to look at the overall health of the business in general. With reports that 80% of small businesses don't last five years (for various reasons), only losing 47% doesn't sound so bad. Besides, why are small town Mom & Pop stores better than Walmart? Walmart offers more choices and cheaper prices, plus I can do my grocery shopping and pick up an exercise ball all while shopping for clothes. Plus, many Mom & Pop's don't take credit cards (because they cost money to accept) and only take local checks. In this case, Walmart is cheaper and more convenient for me to use while traveling (plus the increased revenue contributes to the dividends they pay me!) Small businesses closed because it was no longer profitable to compete with Walmart. We don't live on the playground, Rule #1 says that if we make money we stay in business. If we don't make money we change something or get out of business. Some small businesses have actually thrived by going after niche markets. Walmart does a horrible job at niche markets, but then again, they aren't trying to get the niche markets. If you like cheap clothes made in China that will last 2-5 years before falling apart, shop at Walmart. If the extra quality and clean conscience of buying from Mom & Pop for 2 to 3 times as much appeals to you, then go for it. Based on the market, most people agree with me. Smile!

18. Walmart doesn't care what your community thinks. With a quote, lacking context, from Walmart real estate manager saying that they wouldn't build anywhere if residents didn't want it. For some reason, I believe that if taken in context you would find that he was talking about residents directly around the proposed building. In which case, you could probably say that about any business. Unfortunately, you can't have everything. If Walmart (or any other business) only built out in the middle of nowhere than the cry of "environmental degradation" as in San Fransisco above would be even greater. Walmart isn't going to build anywhere that they can't make money, that would violate Rule #1.

19. Walmart and imports. Basically, Walmart is bad because 70% of their non-grocery merchandise comes from China. If this really is that important to you, start living your meager existence with your own sheep and cotton fields. Nearly everything low cost product is made in India, China, or Bangledesh because those three countries constitute more than half of the world's population and for the vast majority low wage (compared to America), manual labor is a far cry better than living on the streets or working in the fields or coal mines for 12 hours a day. Oh, yeah, and they fail to track where their products that they buy from non-Chinese companies are manufactured. Except that Walmart doesn't try to pretend that its products are manufactured in America, so why track it. If your company professes to be 100% made in the USA, then you better have some program in place to track where your products were made. Walmart has no need to. Besides, I support providing jobs for the third world. It wasn't too many decades ago that all of the cheap stuff was made in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Now those countries have graduated on as their workforce has increased its quality and skill level. Why do people not support economic improvement for people actually in poverty (as opposed to the US version "poverty in name only")?

20. Walmart buys most of its merchandise from China. And this is a bad thing? WUW has all sorts of statistics (entirely true) which are presented to make the reader believe that the world is coming to an end because of the amount of stuff we buy from China.

21. Many of Walmart's "American Suppliers" actually manufacture most or all of their products in China. Once again, SO WHAT? Their products are manufactured in China because it is cheaper to pay Chinese kids $5 a day (which is better than the $0 a day they were getting working in the rice paddies for 12 hours) to produce products which are designed to be sold for $2-3. Is everything about China evil?! Because we don't like their government, we should avoid doing business with the country? How does that help their government change?

22. Walmart's Chinese factory workers are treated poorly. First, let's get something out in the open. Walmart doesn't have factories in China (or if they do, it is only a few). Walmart is in the business of selling stuff, not making stuff. All of those "Walmart" Chinese factories are actually their own independent companies, in many cases run by enterprising entrepreneurs (who are Chinese). Walmart only has as much sway as they do business with those companies. If Walmart has a significant share of one's business, then they can make a lot of changes. If not, they can't. I may spend thousands of dollars a year at Walmart, but if I went in and said I wanted change, the manager would laugh at me (maybe not out loud, but he would certainly be in his head and I would be the talk of the water cooler for a day). So any violations by a company are that company's responsibility (and China likes to lop people's heads off for screwing up). Chinese factory workers are treated much better than the other options they have. It may not be ideal, but that is part of living in a growing economy.

23. Workers face appalling work conditions, despite Walmart's factory inspection program. No proof is given of the working conditions, just a statement that only 26% of inspections are unannounced. This is something that I have a bit of expertise in. Auditing operations. Announced and unnanounced audits/inspections have their advantages and disadvantages. I have done both. I happen to believe that an effective auditing program has to use both. So, I have no problem with Walmart "only" doing 26% unnannounced. Besides, every company (including the great Mom & Pop's) coaches their workers if they know an audit/inspection is happening. It isn't just a Chinese thing. It is a good business practice. Besides, any competent auditor/inspector knows the workers have been coached and still knows how to get the information that they want. If Walmart has incompetent inspectors, then say that with the evidence to back it up. As to hiding violations, well, WUW doesn't directly say they are, they just insinuate that it is happening.

No comments:

Post a Comment