Friday, March 11, 2005

The Trouble With Wal-Mart: An Interview With Liza Featherstone

The Trouble with Wal-Mart: An interview with Liza Featherstone
by Carrie McLaren
Stay Free!

If there is one chain that stands above all others in deserving your wrath it is Wal-Mart. The most successful retailer in the world is, not coincidentally, a pioneer of some of the shadiest business practices imaginable. I'm not just talking about reckless sprawl, Kathy Lee's sweatshop line, or the censorship of popular music, but about Wal-Mart's uncanny knack for uncovering some of the most innovative ways to screw people over, all the while maintaining its wholesome, all-American image. For instance, the company locks late-shift employees in at night, forbidding them to leave the store. Managers have required workers to clock out yet stay on the job, in order to avoid paying them overtime. The company has hired illegal immigrants and forced them to work seven-day weeks without breaks. It spies on employees, fires anyone remotely suspected of union activity, violates child-labor laws, and discriminates against female employees.

It is this last misdeed that Liza Featherstone focuses on in her new book, Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart. Featherstone, a New York--based journalist, chronicles the emergence of Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a class-action suit by Wal-Mart's women workers that is currently winding its way through the courts. In telling the employees' stories, Featherstone discusses the broader societal impact of the retail giant, and the terrifying prospect of its continued growth. Wal-Mart thrives in part by offering poor and working-class people (its primary consumer base) the lowest prices around. But this boon to consumers is also a disaster for workers and local community members. That is, it hurts the very people it helps. Reading Featherstone's book made me realize that shopping at Wal-Mart is a little like smoking crack: the low-prices undoubtedly fill a need (particularly for the poor) but they only come back to bite you in the end.

Read the Interview

Bill in the comments also suggests:

Wal-Mart Values

Will Labor Take the Wal-Mart Challenge

Down and Out in Discount America

Inside the Leviathan


Bill said...

Featherstone's book is good. Check out some of her Nation articles, too: one, two, three.

This NYRB essay on Wal-Mart is particularly good, as well.

Unknown said...

Walmart XIII AD
By Julie Pierce

Almost daily, there is mention of Walmart somewhere in the media. Walmart finds itself up against more lawsuits then ever before and activists are at top of the list of problems that continue to plague Walmart.
From attempts to block the opening of new Super Centers to the individual and group lawsuits that are filed against the corporation, it will be the people, customers and the company’s very own associates who will determine the fate of the aging retailer.
Attempts at redeeming itself publicly and improving its image are a new way of handling the perception people have of the company. In the past public relations and the media were areas that the company avoided unless extremely negative situation had to answered, through the media in some way. Now the corporate offices have decided to defend the company to the extent of taking out full page ads in different areas of the country and designing a web site called Walmartfacts to allow the public access to its’ own view of the wonderful world of Walmart.
A corporation, a company, the as big as life retail behemoth whose founder Sam Walton, is looked at and remembered by many in different ways. Sam was a man who is quoted almost continuously by an assortment of different people and associates. Opinions vary and views on the man and his legacy continue.
The book” The Walmart Decade” by Robert Slater looks at not only the Walmart of today but also has many references to Sam Walton and the way it was. The book “Made in America” by Sam Walton and John Huey is a look at a man that seemed to genuinely care about the people that he more than once said “should be treated as partners;” his associates; his company’s employees who are no longer protected by the founder and his way of “respecting the individual.”
A new book titled “The Walmart Way” by Don Soderqist. is supposed to be about the Walmart executives continuing to follow Sam’s culture. It talks of the Judeo-Christian culture and although it is from the inside of the corporate and executive offices it is not from inside the stores. There is no real feel of what the “in the store associate” feels about the company or how it effects their everyday life.
The corporate officers, the directors and the executive officers of the company are business people running a corporation, not Sam Walton. Anyone attempting to find a company, or a corporation to work for that would appreciate hard work, could at one time find it here. A person could take a look at “The Walmart Culture” and that person would be easy to convince that Walmart has it all and will give it all to you if you work hard and treat the customer as number one, according to Sam Walton. It seems, from the inside to be getting further away from that kind of respect and inclusiveness each day.
Today we have “The Walmart Decade “By Robert Slater “How a New Generation of Leaders Turned Sam Walton's Legacy into the World's #1 company” You really need to read between the lines. You would need to understand that Mr. Slater received his information as it is listed at the end of the book.
He did not work in the stores and did not really have access to or the ability to really touch the average associate. I did. The largest retailer in the country and the world is more than just a retailer, employer and a stock on Wall Street. America’s most admired company is a large part of day-to-day living for the typical American family. It is the major player in the day-to-day life of Walmart Associates.
From the outside of the stores, there is more than one opinion of the company, its’ suppliers and its’ worth. From inside there is also more than one opinion, and depending on many factors that determine your position in the Walmart order of things an opinion can be valid as far as Walmart is concerned or an opinion can be an expression of possible hostile aggressive behavior the way Walmart is today.
Among the many files, policies and trade secrets of the number one retailer in our nation and in the world are the people. These people work in the stores. The people that greet the customers and the people that keep the shelves stocked. In many cases, this book reflects the very lives of the people that this company will forever be connected to, like it or not. This is the warehouse, the truck driver and the system that keeps count on all of it. This is the story that includes a factory in a foreign country that produces the clothing that hangs on the racks in the softlines departments.
This book is a written view from the inside of the stores. It takes an in depth look at the associates, individual stores, salaried management and the executive offices of this company that is listed on tickers of the New York Stock Exchange as wmt.

Unknown said...

A pre publication copy of "The Walmart Way" Not Sam's Way is available to all Walmart associates free email me at