Liberals have turned Wal-Mart into their poster child for conservative capitalist greed. Among other things, the company is often demonized for its alleged less-than-sustainable wages and work environment offenses. While some practices may not be what some feel adequate, I believe the company nonetheless deserves a certain amount of respect for its accomplishments.
Wal-Mart is one of the great success stories of western capitalism. Sam Walton began his business endeavors in Arkansas in the ’40s, and quickly increased his sales by selling his supplies for lower prices than other retailers. His business quickly grew, evolving into the largest public corporation in the world. The company’s commitment to lower prices has never changed, which is accomplished by keeping costs low. Working to reduce costs means employees must work for lower wages and incur fewer benefits.
With roughly a third of Americans shopping at a Wal-Mart store every week, the company clearly does something right. You would be hard-pressed to find better prices on everyday household items or a wider variety of products. From bikes to groceries, Wal-Mart is able to charge lower prices than many of its competitors. Many on the left feel Wal-Mart stores drive out competition and put smaller stores out of business. However, I believe the exact opposite happens. By bringing in a store attracting large volumes of customers, smaller businesses are able to thrive by moving in right next-door. In my hometown, I watched a small shopping center explode with growth only a few years after the introduction of a new Wal-Mart store. Coffee and candy shops, sporting goods stores and office supply retailers saw more business than ever before. In addition, Wal-Mart created much-needed jobs for the city. Those who would otherwise have nowhere to turn for work now have more options. Sure, the company may not be paying the most competitive wages, but think about the alternative.
Critics also enjoy attacking Wal-Mart for what they consider to be substandard wages and benefits. Key to the company’s commitment to keeping prices down is employing primarily part-time employees, to avoid paying costly overtime. What’s more, Wal-Mart only provides roughly 50 percent of its employees with health care coverage. However, most people do not realize the corporation only requires an employee to work 34 hours per week to qualify for “full time” benefits. This means an employee can work almost one day per week less than at most other places of employment and still receive coverage. Granted, this is not the best coverage money can buy, but it still provides more than what many other Americans receive. In addition, any other company with a primarily part-time workforce would never give its employees any kind of benefits.
Wal-Mart is also increasing efforts to engage in more sustainable environmental practices. Recent reports released from corporate headquarters show the company has an ultimate goal of 100 percent sustainability, and is working toward this goal by implementing dozens of “green” programs. These programs include selling organic cotton T-shirts, using low-energy electronic equipment and installing new low-flow sinks. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said to CNN that while he realizes Wal-Mart is by no means a green company, he believes the corporation is taking necessary steps to become sustainable in a way that is beneficial to both the company and the globe. Both the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense – a non-profit environmental advocacy group – have recognized the company’s efforts.
I am in no way attempting to prove Wal-Mart is a completely selfless group with pure intentions of making the world a better place. All I’m asking is we recognize Wal-Mart has been smart. It has figured out what it needs to do to become successful – and though it may not be as beneficial to everyone – the company has learned how to sell affordable goods and still turn a profit. In addition, Wal-Mart is not the evil corporation those on the left believe it is. It has created jobs for Americans who may otherwise have had no other options for work. It’s unfair to demonize the company simply for its success. If you believe Wal-Mart is truly wrong, don’t shop there. I’ll continue to enjoy my bargains.