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Editorial: Wal-Mart Can Hide, But It Can't Run

Robert Greenwald's upcoming documentary about Wal-Mart's predatory practices is part of an unprecedented progressive media campaign.
 
 
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Wal-Mart has taken advantage of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to try to distract the public from the myriad controversies that have plagued it recently. The extent of Wal-Mart's sins includes lawsuits about discrimination, union busting, worker anger over backlogs of unpaid overtime, and health care and compensation policies that send many of its employees to welfare and food stamps.

It's true that Wal-Mart stepped up to the plate to help the hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina; the Walton family has reportedly contributed $25 million to the cause. But with everyone in the immediate family right at the top of Forbes' 500, it's not the biggest stretch to their wallets. In fact, a recent report from the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy faults the family with the largest personal fortune in the world for a "rather low level of philanthropic giving," and judges the purpose of their giving to be "primarily self-interested."

Wal-Mart reportedly spends $4 million a day on public relations to obscure its corporate irresponsibility and position it as an American company that truly cares. But even $4 million a day can't hide the vicious business model of the largest corporation on the planet. With 1.4 million employees (larger than GM, Ford, GE and IBM combined), Wal-Mart's $258 billion in annual revenues make up 2 percent of the U.S. G.D.P.

In spite of its financial largesse, or maybe because of it, Wal-Mart constantly plays the miser. A congressional report in 2004 found that a typical 200-employee Wal-Mart store cost federal taxpayers $420,000 for children's health care, tax credits and deductions for low-income families. That equals about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee, or an annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart's 1.2 million employees in America. What that boils down to is that Americans subsidize Wal-Mart so that its stockholders can continue to reap huge profits.

Wal-Mart is about to find itself in the spotlight again. Robert Greenwald's new documentary film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, rolls out in November, with thousands of house parties, and an array of journalistic reports in the progressive media. (Full disclosure: Robert Greenwald is a member of the board of trustees of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet's parent organization.) In concert with this media effort, SEIU and hundreds of community and religious groups have organized a "Wal-Mart Week" to expose the truths about the company to the greater public.

Greenwald's film is pioneering an amazing model of film distribution, with supporters already signed up for 3,300 house parties around the globe. The method allows for a mass audience without waiting to see if the corporate movie theater chains will show it, and it also allows the documentary to go from production to distribution in a matter of weeks.

With this editorial, AlterNet is also upping the ante on Wal-Mart. We've published dozens of articles about Wal-Mart over the last few years. Now we have created a Wal-Mart page ( www.alternet.org/walmart) that aggregates articles and investigative work by our writers and partner publications and websites; key information about the issues; and links to important campaigns.

In an unprecedented level of teamwork, The Nation , The American Prospect , In These Times , The Washington Monthly and other media will all be publishing investigative articles simultaneously during the week of November 7 in support of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

The concerted effort of Greenwald's documentary, progressive media, activist campaigns like Wal-Mart Watch, community groups and the SEIU is great. But the truth is, Wal-Mart won't be forced to change unless everyone pitches in. And it's easy for you to get involved.

Join the many thousands across America in the largest campaign ever against Wal-Mart's corporate practices:

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.