I have boycotted Wal-Mart…about 3 times…unsuccessfully. The first time was because they were not providing adequate security in their parking lots and didn’t seem to care that their customers were getting robbed. The second time, I think it was about unfair treatment of their workers. I can’t even remember what the third time was for…oh wait, it was for bullying squeezing suppliers over costs. But no matter how hard I try to get out, the low prices always pull me back in. When it comes to my budget, I believe that every penny counts. But at whose expense?
In my mind, I have justified my socially unconscious behavior. I have convinced myself that doing the other half of my grocery shopping at Whole Paycheck Foods somehow evens it all out. I bring my own bags, donate my bag credits, and I buy products that support environmental and social causes. I don’t mind spending more money there because of the quality of what they sell and my shared belief in the company’s philosophy. So in my mind, it was okay to turn a blind eye to a corporate philosophy that I didn’t believe in as long as I spent the other half of my money with one that I did.
Then I saw something last weekend that made me realize how full of crap I am. I was watching Melissa Harris-Perry’s (shout out to nerdland!) panel discussing the recently released Congressional report on Wal-Mart.
The report found that Wal-Mart’s wages are so low that many of its workers rely on government aid programs like food stamps in order to make ends meet. The report estimates that one Wal-Mart supercenter with 300 employees in Wisconsin could cost taxpayers over $900,000 per year. To put that number in perspective, Wal-Mart has about 1.4 million employees and is the largest employer in the U.S after the federal government. As Harris-Perry put it, Wal-Mart is “triple dipping.” The pay their workers low wages, the workers rely on government assistance at the taxpayers’ (aka—me and you) expense, then the workers pump the money back into Wal-Mart.
Surely this information should be enough to make my next attempt at boycotting Wal-Mart stick. But before I stepped off the ledge, I wanted to arm myself with all the information I needed to make sure that this time I could walk away for good. So I decided to find out how much money I was really saving by shopping there. I made a typical shopping list and did a price comparison between Wal-Mart and the next best thing, (in my opinion, anyway) Target. And I was blown away by what I found out! The difference in the cost of the items at Wal-Mart vs. the cost of the items at Target was a whopping $1.25!!!!
I was selling out to save $1.25.
Deep, right? And when I add in the government subsidies that my taxes cover for their workers, shopping at Wal-Mart actually costs me money! You know that liquid that trails behind a trash truck? Well, that’s what I felt like after uncovering this shocking revelation—trash truck juice. My perception that I was saving all this money shopping there was just as twisted as my attempt to justify it.
So that’s that. I’m officially saying goodbye to Wal-Mart. But before I end this, I want to be clear. This blog is not about bashing Wal-Mart and asking others to follow suit. The issue of providing Americans with a living wage is bigger than Wal-Mart. They are merely at the top of a long list of companies that could stand to be better corporate citizens. I realize that there is another side to this argument, which I am sure many will be eager to point out.
This is really about sharing my internal struggle to live according to the principles and values that I am trying to teach my child. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Maybe you fill in the blank with something else in the place of Wal-Mart. Maybe it’s something other than your pocketbook that is outweighing your principles. Maybe there is something else that is tugging at your conscience to make a change. And like seeing that panel on MSNBC was what I needed to make my decision, maybe reading this is just what you needed to help you make yours.
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