It's Always, Always Wal-Mart
November 1, 2005 - 12:48pm ET
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Wal-Mart's not-so-good streak of publicity continues today, with both a rebuke from the Department of Labor's inspector general and the release of a new movie that shows the downside of Wal-Mart's famously low prices. Add that to the leaked benefits memo from last week, and the reasons that Wal-Mart has felt the need set up its own "war room" become increasingly clear.
First, Labor Department's inspector general released a report yesterday concluding that Wal-Mart had received "significant concessions" from Labor Department officials in a deal reached between the two last January. You might remember the deal as the agreement that allowed Wal-Mart to have 15 days' notice before inspectors could come and investigate for child-labor violations. Jonathan Tasini elaborates in his blog :
First, the inspector general of the Labor Department found that there were "serious breakdowns" in the agreement reached in January with Wal-Mart to settle child labor violations. This was really a sweetheart deal between the DOL and the company: After Wal-Mart was found breaking the law on child labor, the government fined the company a measly $135,000 (and change) and signed a deal with Wal-Mart that said "Next time we want to investigate what laws you might be breaking, we’re going to tell you about the investigation before we do it"—just to give you enough time to cover your tracks, shred documents or muddle the trail.
Rep. George Miller (maybe we should start calling him "Tiger" George because he's one of the few Democrats that consistently sinks his teeth into wrongdoing among corporations and the Republican administration—and doesn't seem to be afraid of his shadow) asked for the investigation after the deal hit the news. You can see Miller's press release here.
Today also marks the world premiere of the new movie "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices," by Robert Greenwald. It's now available for order on DVD, and next week, the Campaign For America's Future is sponsoring the Washington, D.C. premiere, including comments by Greenwald. The movie follows small businesses trying to survive when Wal-Mart comes to town and documents how low- and middle-class families are pushed into poverty.
Facing all this negative press, The New York Times reports today that Wal-Mart is fighting back. And it's got a former tobacco exec in charge! The company has compiled an election-like action team that focuses on "swing voters"—what they call "consumers who have not soured on Wal-Mart." It's produced its own movie trailer trashing Greenwald's, and has begun promoting a film by director Ron Galloway called "Why Wal-Mart Works And Why That Makes Some People Crazy ." Statistics show, however, that consumers' consciences are turning them away from the low-cost-is-everything mantra Wal-Mart peddles. One report from 2004 found that between 2 and 8 percent of former Wal-Mart shoppers had stopped shopping because of negative press about the store. Looks like there's more of that to come.
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