Film Review: Walmart – The High Cost of Low Price

Walmart – The High Cost of Low Price (Tartan DVD. A Robert Greenwald Film)

Almost everyone has heard of Walmart (Asda in the UK) but many are unaware of the effects of its practices on populations around the world. Owned by the Walton family, who collectively are worth around $100 billion, Walmart has the world’s largest work force of any private employer. This makes this in-depth scrutiny of the impact of globalisation for profit highly pertinent.

Impoverishment, destruction of communities and non-unionised and illegal work practices figure strongly as do the sometimes clear, sometimes opaque links to government policy-making in the USA.  Walmart moves into town promising employment, builds a megastore structure and hires staff, displays every commodity that can already be found in town (and more), undercuts local prices and very soon oversees the closure of long-established, formerly successful small family businesses – causing unemployment, ghost towns and impoverishment of communities. If a community is strong enough to fight and either prevent the actual build or force closure then Walmart simply ups sticks and moves a few miles outside the town or county border and the end results for the community are the same.

There is a strong anti-union imperative within the company and such a climate of fear of punishment among employees that it was very difficult to find current workers in the US ready to speak out on record. Ex-employees, however, were less reluctant. National employment laws are different around the world.  One example of workers defying the Walmart no union rule was in Quebec, Canada, where they were successful in forming a union (according to local law) with the result that Walmart won anyway – they just closed down.

How is it that Walmart can give such cheap prices and offer two for the price of one? Benevolence from a caring, hugely profitable megabusiness? No, they simply pass the cost on to the farmers or other suppliers. He who pays the piper…  The film doesn’t stop at covering the retail side of the business; also there are interviews and filmed information from China, Bangladesh, Honduras and Saipan (US territory) to reveal the impact of the Walmart style of sweatshop labour and conditions around the world.

This film could be an excellent stimulus when viewed together by a group prepared to discuss and further understand the ways in which capitalism systematically works against workers, against regulations, against communities and for the ongoing accumulation of the few.

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