US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is Wal-Mart number one? Maybe when it comes to mistreating workers

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Fortune magazine announced its Fortune 500 rankings yesterday. The big name corporations that made the Top 10 this year, including Exxon, Chevron, and Apple to name a few, are not surprising. But the king of all the companies this year was Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., ranking first once again after its fall to second place last year.

As a corporate giant, Wal-Mart employs 2.2 million people and brought in $444 billion in revenue in 2012. It is run by the Walton family whose empire includes around 8,500 stores worldwide.

Despite its capitalistic genius, no one can deny that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has a reputation for treating their employees poorly. With thousands of lawsuits filed against them a year, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. continues to forbid employees from unionizing. (Wal-Mart cited “economic reasons” when asked why they were closing a branch in Canada that successfully unionized.) They fail to cover hundreds of thousands of their employees with health care benefits. And if you do the math and compare CEO Michael Duke’s yearly salary of $35 million to the average worker’s $8.81 an hour, you will find that Duke makes more money in an hour than a regular employee makes in a year.

What part of that qualifies them as being the best?

Many workers’ rights groups have been working hard to change the way Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. treats its employees. In an excerpt from her recent interview with U.S. Catholic, Kim Bobo, the founder and director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), discussed the many ways that employers like Wal-Mart steal wages from their workers. She warns buyers to be conscious of where they shop because low prices often means low employee satisfaction.

“Wal-Mart has a history of cheating workers, of paying them low salaries, of offering very few benefits,” Bobo said “That’s why [IWJ has] helped organize activities at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. You should plan right now to be protesting at Wal-Mart on Black Friday this year.”

An editor from America magazine also brought up another interesting consequence of Wal-Mart’s low prices. In an article in February, Kevin Clarke wrote:

“The low pay may keep costs low for Wal-Mart’s customers, but U.S. consumers make up the difference indirectly. A lot of his fellow workers, [Wal-Mart employee William] Fletcher reports, qualify for a number of government support programs, including supplemental nutritional programs, housing assistance and earned income tax credits. 'If you plan on getting by on a Wal-Mart salary,’ he says, 'you have to know how to do so on public assistance.’ …

“Mr. Fletcher thinks U.S. taxpayers would be ’shocked' to learn 'how much they’re supporting Wal-Mart workers,’ especially considering the company’s outsized annual profits. In 2011 Wal-Mart reported a net profit of $16 billion on $447 billion in revenue, making it number two on Fortune 500 in terms of revenue, just behind Exxon, and number 10 in net profitability. The lion’s share of Wal-Mart’s income goes directly into the hands of the company’s largest shareholders, the Walton family, holders of 48 percent of Wal-Mart stock and the richest family on earth, with over $107 billion in net worth.”

In other words, Wal-Mart is exploiting its workers for the extremely high profit of a select few corporate leaders, and American taxpayers are left to pick up the tab by financially supporting the low-income workers who make it possible. Why aren’t more people outraged about this? Is it simply because they don’t want to give up the “savings” they get from shopping at Wal-Mart?

These are just a few reasons why Wal-Mart should not be considered number one by any measure. Something is definitely wrong here. Their exploitation of workers should raise a few eyebrows. As corporate America basks in this prestigious ranking, we must not forget the average workers who are also responsible for making these operations happen.

Flickr photo cc by OURWalmart