Much protest was sparked by the proposal to build a new Wal-Mart at the corner of Coors Boulevard and Montaño Road. In October, the city’s Environmental Planning Commission voted against the proposal, putting the plans to a halt for now. Arguments against the proposed construction ranged from the more basic complaints of increasing traffic in an already high-density area to larger criticisms of Wal-Mart’s labor practices. Indeed, this recent local example of demonstration against the global retail giant shows that people are becoming more and more aware of the very negative impacts Wal-Mart can have on a number of levels.
Wal-Mart has also come under recent scrutiny for a number of international scandals facing the company, including accusations of bribery in Mexico, labor strife in the U.S. and the factory fire in Bangladesh. The most prominent event is the horrific fire, which claimed 112 lives in a factory used by many of Wal-Mart’s suppliers. The Tazreen Fashions factory, where the fire occurred, had repeated safety code violations, including a lack of fire escapes and obstacles barring escape routes. In response to the fire, Wal-Mart’s president and chief executive officer, Michael Duke, said the company would not buy from unsafe factories, but reports from inspections of the Tazreen facility show the factory repeatedly violated safety norms.
In an interview with The Nation, Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, said this fire is a “product of that strategy that Wal-Mart invites, supports, and perpetuates.”
This fire is reminiscent of our own labor history. Indeed, the parallels between this fire and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 people, are striking.
In addition to this incident, Wal-Mart has also seen record strikes and outrage from store workers and those in Wal-Mart’s warehouses in recent months. Strikes began in Wal-Mart’s Elwood, Ill., store in September 2012 after Wal-Mart fired several warehouse workers for bringing up concerns about working conditions to management. After this, warehouse workers began to strike for the improvement of working conditions in the warehouses and against the harsh retaliation measures of Wal-Mart.
While this strike was resolved and Wal-Mart agreed to stop illegal retaliation against protesting workers, another large strike erupted quickly thereafter. In mid-November, ahead of the hectic Black Friday sales, workers pulled off what may have been the largest strike in the history of Wal-Mart. In 46 states, Wal-Mart workers walked off the job, trying to push Wal-Mart for better wages and more policies against retaliation. It seems that in both production and retail, Wal-Mart workers are being mistreated and their safety put at risk.
Finally, Wal-Mart was faced with allegations of bribery in Mexico after it was found that its Mexico subsidiary paid bribes to dodge zoning laws. The New York Times reported that 19 of the Wal-Mart stores in Mexico were implicated in bribery. One of the worst examples was a Wal-Mart near Teotihuacán, the site of the famous pyramids outside Mexico City, where Wal-Mart paid more than $200,000 to get around laws protecting archaeological preservation to build the store, according to The Nation.
From New Mexico to Bangladesh, Wal-Mart’s practices are harming their workers and the communities around their stores, and people are becoming more aware of these impacts. Wal-Mart’s low prices come at a cost and we as consumers need to realize this. While Wal-Mart is an easy target, practices like this are not limited to Wal-Mart. Being aware of similar practices at other companies can make a difference.