Friday, October 05, 2007

what to do about Walmart

I’ve been on the verge of doing a post on why Amish and Conservative Mennonites don’t have the same sentiments toward Walmart, as compared to upper middle class folks. According to popular uppre middle class knowledge, Walmart exploits its workers, it monopolizes communities, robbing the poor so that tax dollars have to fill in the gaps.

Some folks are shocked to see the scene depicted above. Some find it ironic. Yet in many places, where there is a high population density of Amish, Walmart caters to the Amish community, and yes Amish and Conservative Mennonites shop there. I’ve even been in places where Mennonites have referred to WalMart as the Mennonite store. Dorcas Smucker, a conservative Mennonite writer, approaches the question from a comparative consumer’s perspective, pointing out how other companies exploit their own consumers, with scandalous advertising themes and prices in addition to doing everything that WalMart has done. Hmm.

So Walmart exploits their own workers by not providing affordable health care to its workers and their families. If you were to tell an Amish woman that this is a reason she shouldn’t support Walmart by shopping there, she would respond by noting that she has never had any health insurance nor has her family nor has any of her predecessors. “How is that exploitation?” she would wonder.

Walmart also underpays its employees. To this an Amish man would ask, “How much do they get paid?” The response is usually minimum wage, which is generally twice as much or three times as much as an Amish man would get paid. And the Amish man would humbly tell you so too, with a confused look on his face.

Walmart also exploits foreign workers who make very little profit off of their labor. Smucker rightly notes and we know this too—who doesn’t? I know of only a few fair trade organizations and products. There simply aren’t any alternatives.

It seems to me that as we look at this exchange, we encounter a phenomenon that often happens cross-culturally. Judgments don’t translate directly. Sometimes they’re entirely irrelevant. Sometimes they expose even greater injustices that have been ignored. Walmart might be the giant that becomes the object of a lot of stone throwing. But I think they are simply a representation of what we ultimately hate about ourselves and the system we’ve become entangled in.

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