by Carrie McLaren
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.
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Bill in the comments also suggests:
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