Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Discussion 2: Wal-Martian Invasion

Today, we discussed Barbara Ehrenreich's essay "Wal-Martian Invasion." Sam, Michele, Rob, and Ryan kicked off the discussion with a great question. They asked: Is Wal-Mart a sweatshop?

The class responded, nearly unanimously: No.

Most of us had a hard time buying into Ehrenreich's argument. We felt that she wrote from such a biased perspective. Her tone was rough. Rather than pulling us to her side, she pushed us away. We wanted facts, not sensationalism.

Some of us wondered if Ehrenreich had some personal beef with the company. Maria pointed out that everyone's had a crappy job. Can the true worth of a business be determined by its disgruntled workers?

Jan told us about a vet she knows who worked at Wal-Mart, and found it a great way to wean himself back into normal everyday life. Rob pointed out that the store gives people jobs. Employees are aware of their wages, stated Michele, and they choose to work there. Minimum wage jobs help high school and college students make extra money while in school. Wal-Mart's high turnover rate can easily be explained by those students, leaving each year for bigger and better things.

Midway through the discussion, Justin spoke out for the other side, and made some awesome points. He asked why Wal-Mart has enough money to purchase other companies, like Sam's Club, but it can't afford to pay its workers better. He pointed out that their simple "vest" uniforms can't cost all that much. Brie added: More employees would stay if Wal-Mart paid more.

We found ourselves with a great question, and no definite answer: At who's expense are we getting these great prices?

We never discussed the manufacturers of Wal-Mart goods. Who's working the machines that make the $7.00 t-shirts? Who's screwing together the toys? (Not Santa's elves, obviously). It's impossible for us to make a judgement on Wal-Mart without further research.

CNN has reported allegations that Wal-Mart goods come from Chinese sweatshops. A few years ago, the documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices" was made about these sweatshops, as well as a number of other Wal-Mart related conspiracies.

Class ended before we really got to talk about these conspiracies. But the question, posed by Jan during our discussion, still remains: To what extent is a company responsible for the well being of its workers?

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