Prettying Up the Wal-mart Beast

Wal-Mart, the world's largest and richest corporation, spends about half-a-billion bucks a year on poll-tested ads trying to convey an "aw-shucks-we're-just-friendly-folks-from-Arkansas" image.

But, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, Wal-Mart regularly bares its teeth and shows a nasty, devouring reality behind this carefully-crafted mask. For example, the Beast of Bentonville, as it's known among its own employees, pays poverty-level wages, holds most employees to part-time work, denies health-care benefits to most of its workers, is rabidly anti-union, and is a notorious (and often convicted) discriminator against its women workers. It's also the world's largest exploiter of sweatshop labor, especially in China.

Not to worry, though, for the corporate honchos are now rushing to cope with its spreading reputation as a labor abuser. Are they raising wages, providing good benefits, enhancing the bargaining power of workers? Get real. As the company's chief spokesman put it: "We can't change who we are. We can't change what makes Wal-Mart Wal-Mart."

Instead, they're dumping a few million more bucks into a new PR effort to try putting some fresh gloss on its tarnished work record. It's ad agency has released three radio and TV commercials portraying happy-go-lucky workers giving scripted testimonials about what an absolutely terrific place Wal-Mart is for workers.

More Wal-Mart ads are planned to try buffing up other image blotches the company has -- including the fact that neighborhoods all across the country are in rebellion against the arrogant intrusion of Wal-Mart megastores into their communities, thousands of suppliers are grumbling about its bullying tactics, and local businesses are rising in opposition to its monopolistic practices.

Wal-Mart can run all the ads it wants to cover up its abuses, but it's like putting earrings on a hog -- they just can't hide the ugliness.

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