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Wal-Mart: the high cost of low price

Portraying Wal-Mart as the Darth Vader of retail, this film does all it can to champion the voices of those determined to rein in the giant. The company’s systematic and highly cynical manipulation of tax breaks and social welfare benefits is vividly exposed. For instance, the company appears to have a carefully crafted policy of not paying a living wage. Instead, it provides employees with detailed information about social welfare benefits available in their area that can be used to top up their Wal-Mart pay packets.

The film also describes instances when Wal-Mart has taken advantage of enticements from local authorities to locate in a particular town in exchange for short-term reductions or suspensions in business tax. When the tax-break period has come to an end, Wal-Mart has left behind perfectly serviceable, aircraft hangar-sized shops only to build new ones just outside the towns’ tax boundaries.

The family that owns Wal-Mart is appropriately named the Waltons, a surname associated with wholesome American values and fair play, thanks to a long-running US television series. The film shows how these new Wal-Mart Waltons are, in fact, destroying their homeland: their insatiable appetite for profit threatens everything from national labour rights through water quality to race relations.

New Internationalist issue 391 magazine cover This article is from the July 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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