FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from
(DV) Bliss: Wal-Mart Under Attack







Wal-Mart Under Attack 
by Shepherd Bliss
December 2, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


A withering barrage of criticism of Wal-Mart this year seems to be taking a toll on the world’s largest retail chain store. The new documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices by Robert Greenwald presents evidence that the giant pays poor wages, offers inadequate health benefits, overworks its employees without paying overtime, and does not allow workers to unionize. 

The film asserts that Wal-Mart destroys family life, does not provide security in its parking lots, and strangles communities and local economies when it comes to town.  It shows sweatshops in places like China, Bangladesh and Latin America where Wal-Mart’s cheap goods are produced by people paid as little as 13 to 17 cents an hour or $3 a day. 

Meanwhile, the corporation’s sales last year were a record $258 billion and it made more than $10 billion in profits from the work of its 1.2 million employees. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott is reported to earn $27 million a year. The film claims that the average Wal-Mart hourly employee makes slightly over $13,000 a year. So many rely for survival on public assistance programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. 

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton was the richest man in the world when he died in 1992; his family remains the world’s richest. Wal-Mart emerges in the film as a master at making money for the Walton family, but not as a corporation that cares for its workers and customers.  Walton’s widow and four children are worth an estimated $102 billion.  Despite corporate and family claims of social responsibility, they apparently give less than 1% of their wealth to charity. Instead, they use the money to build palatial homes and even a fortified underground bunker to protect the family. 

Hilo, Hawai’i, where this reporter lives, was one of the places during the week of Nov. 14 where the movie opened at over 7,000 churches, schools, union halls, homes and elsewhere around the US, Canada, and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people saw the film during its first week. The timing of its opening could not have been worse for Wal-Mart or more ideal for its opponents.  It came as holiday shopping started and a week before the day after Thanksgiving, usually the busiest shopping day of the year. 

The 97-minute movie was made on a $1.8 million shoestring budget. Brave New Films distributed the film to grassroots groups around the country, rather than to theaters. “Our goal isn’t to close Wal-Mart down,” Greenwald explained to the San Francisco Chronicle.  “It is to make it a better, more humane company toward its employees and the communities it is in.” 

Personal interviews with former and current Wal-Mart managers and  employees comprise the bulk of the film. Their stories are contrasted with speeches by CEO Scott and Wal-Mart commercials, which present the Wal-Mart side of the story. 

The movie presents images of small-town people whose lives the big box store hurts. “You can’t buy small-town quality of life from Wal-Mart,” noted one Hearne, Texas, resident. “But once they steal it from you, you cannot get it back.” 

The film begins by Scott giving a pep talk about Wal-Mart’s record sales and profits.  Scott “tells the Wal-Mart story” and advocates “the Wal-Mart model.” With characteristic bravado, Scott declares, “This company is going to grow.” He notes, “We generate fear if not envy.” 


The film focuses on various former Wal-Mart workers, small business owners and others impacted directly by the corporation. Sadness rises in their voices and even tears into the eyes of some as they discuss the corporation’s policies and practices. Four whistle-blowing managers, each with nearly two decades of service to Wal-Mart, provide the bulk of inside information about Wal-Mart’s corporate practices. 

The film takes the viewer through small towns across America. “I will never go into a Wal-Mart,” comments Don Hunter in Middlefield, Ohio. “I’ve seen lots of Mom and Pop stores crucified by them. Wal-Mart crushes the competition.” The movie shows empty downtown shopping districts that were once vibrant community gathering places. 

Edith Arana tells of approaching a manager, “He told me, there’s no place for people like you in management.  I said, what do you mean people like me -- that I’m a woman or black?  He said, two out of two ain’t bad.” African American Congresswoman Maxine Waters describes Wal-Mart as “a monster.” It is currently involved in the US’s largest-ever gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 1.6 million current and former female employees. 

“Practically everything in the store is from China, though Sam Walton used to say ‘Buy American,’” explains one man.  “It has been a personal thing of mine for years not to buy at Wal-Mart.” The film asserts that Wal-Mart imported $18 billion from China in 2004. 

“They busted up Standard Oil and Ma Bell, but Wal-Mart is going on a rampage,” observed another person. “If Wal-Mart is not a monopoly, I do not know what a monopoly is,” added another. A black Southern minister in the film describes Wal-Mart as an example of “plantation capitalism” at its worst. According to one union organizer, “Wal-Mart is the largest, richest, and probably meanest corporation in the world.” 

 Wal-Mart commercials tout its environmental responsibility. But Catawba riverkeeper Donna Lisenby in North Carolina recounts its almost total indifference to her complaint about pesticide-contaminated runoff from their stores that polluted the nearby river. “I read Wal-Mart’s enforcement record. They had one of the worst environmental records in the nation,” Lisenby comments. 

Among the claims in the movie were the following: Wal-Mart was fined $1 million by the EPA for environmental abuses and is in court battles in 31 states. Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle a suit in Colorado.  It paid another $11 million to settle a suit regarding hiring illegal immigrants. The EPA fined it $3.1 million for Clean Water Act violations. 

Two well-organized, union-backed groups have taken Wal-Mart on -- Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. The Watch group calls Wal-Mart a “bully” and declared the week of the film showings to be Wal-Mart Week of Action. Along with 400 groups they hosted events around three major issues: Health Care, contending that “Wal-Mart fails to provide insurance to over half of their employees;” Fair Labor Practices, complaining of Wal-Mart’s “employee abuse and discrimination;” and Protecting Your Local Economy, asserting that “Wal-Mart plans to nearly double its retail outlets by 2010.” 

Various internal Wal-Mart documents are being leaked to the press by its workers. One memo indicates that it plans to open or expand 494 stores across the US next year, which is 100 more than previously disclosed. Wal-Mart confirmed the document’s validity. Watch is alerting activists to rally against those developments. 

The film builds to a dramatic climax by revealing Wal-Mart’s lack of security and in its parking lots.  A judge is interviewed who fined Wal-Mart $18 million in Texas for its pattern of neglecting to provide adequate security. “Wal-Mart focuses on protecting their property, not their patrons,” comments one person. 

The film concludes with scenes of joyful people organizing groups against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has recently faced growing resistance to new urban stores and suffered high-profile defeats in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. The film documents communities that have stopped Wal-Mart. The names of dozens of towns that have blocked Wal-Mart from coming into their communities flash across the screen. 

Following one of the Hilo screenings, people sat around to discuss it. “I was astonished by the part about China,” noted artist Patricia Hoban of Hawaiian Paradise Park. “To see what Wal-Mart’s factory workers go through was astounding. They are paid so little and locked in without a way out.” 

“It was really sad,” noted a University of Hawai’i at Hilo student from Arkansas. “The parts about discrimination against women and racism were especially sad. I wondered if the film might have exaggerated some things to make its points. I don’t like Wal-Mart because they do unethical things.” Another UHH student, Elisha Goodman, added, “I was impressed that so many communities have been able to keep Wal-Mart out.” 

“In America people believe the propaganda of the spin-masters,” noted Hawai’i Community College teacher S. Akama Thomson. “They do not want to believe how ugly our corporate economy and political situation have become. The film generated a lot of feelings and reflections.” 

Other comments included the following: “I was outraged by Wal-Mart’s blatant disrespect and arrogance.” “The film was redundant and too long.” “There are far more people shopping at Wal-Mart tonight than watching this film.” 

Wal-Mart has taken Greenwald’s movie and its potential impact upon its profits seriously. It discredits the filmmaker’s “careless disregard for the facts.” The New York Times ran a long article entitled “
A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room.” The story reveals how veterans of the 2004 Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns cooperate in an office in corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to counter the corporation’s growing number of critics. 

Wal-Mart has posted a detailed 28-page response to the film at It begins, “Failed fantasy filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Xanadu) has framed a series of thinly-sourced attacks and allegations to fabricate a disingenuous caricature of Wal-Mart. In Greenwald’s contorted vision, smears, supposition, and sour grapes are substituted for evidence and corroboration.” 

Wal-Mart has gone on a counter-attack to the film, targeting its former employees who testified against it on camera, making personal allegations against those whistle-blowers.  It attempts to personally discredit the main people interviewed in the film. It offers “facts” to refute Greenwald’s claims, examining the personal lives and difficulties of many of the whistle-blowers whom Greenwald interviews on camera. It has harsh words for its disloyal former Wal-Mart employees. 

Wal-Mart describes the film as “propaganda video” and criticizes Greenwald because “he hasn’t offered solutions.”  In defense of itself Wal-Mart alleges: “we offer families the opportunity to save, on average, $1250 per year by shopping at Wal-Mart.” Wal-Mart contends that it stands for opportunity, diversity, community, and real benefits. It offers three pages of negative reviews of Greenwald’s previous four movies. 

Wal-Mart is also promoting a second film, “Why Wal-Mart Works and Why That Makes Some People Crazy” by Ron Galloway. Wal-Mart’s website includes a press release from Galloway that says that his “documentary explores why Wal-Mart is one of the greatest success stories in business history, how it improves the lives of individual working Americans and their communities and the pathology behind the escalating attacks on the company by special interest groups.” The New York Times writes that this movie “casts the company in a rosier light.” It is part of Wal-Mart’s “effort to portray itself as more worker-friendly and environmentally-conscious.” 

Filmmaker Galloway has written “Defending Wal-Mart,” which appears at, along with dozens of other articles on Wal-Mart. He concludes, “I firmly believe no special interest group in this nation benefits the poor and blue collar as much as Wal-Mart does.” Elsewhere Galloway is quoted as saying, “I think a lot of people like to use Wal-Mart as a straw man.” 

This reporter went to Hilo’s Wal-Mart during the busy Thanksgiving week to interview people about the film.  The store was clean, well organized and bustling with activity. It had many workers, who were cordial and helpful and seemed happy. Manager Terry Crowley was reluctant to answer questions and referred me to a Public Relations firm in Honolulu. Crowley did say, “We’re going to have a successful holiday season and provide the best customer service that we can. People can contact me directly if they have any concerns.” The PR firm guided me to the information on the Wal-Mart website listed above and below. 

Wal-Mart advocates also point to its relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. The company apparently gave over $20 million in cash donations, along with truckloads of free merchandise and food. Attempting to improve its image, CEO Scott asked in late Oct., “What if the very things that many people criticize us for -- our size and reach -- became a trusted friend and ally to all, just as it did in Katrina?” 


The Times indicates that Wal-Mart has been having difficulties, “Once the darling of Wall Street, Wal-Mart’s stock price has fallen 27% since 2000, when Lee Scott became chief executive.” This drop reflects, in part, “investor’s anxieties about the company’s image.” The Times concludes: “there is some evidence that criticism is influencing consumers.” Even before the film was released, an Associated Press story reported a leaked internal memo admitting “that the bad publicity is keeping some shoppers away from its stores.” 

The Wall Street Journal reports that for the quarter ending Oct. 31, “Wal-Mart posted a 3.8 % rise in fiscal third-quarter net income -- its lowest profit increase since 2001.” 

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., MA.) has also taken on Wal-Mart in Congress. 

“Wal-Mart sells itself as the all-American company, but it violates American family values every single day,” Sen. Kennedy contends. He contrasts it to “one of Wal-Mart’s chief competitors, Costco,” which he describes as “a shining example of good corporate citizenship. Its average pay is 76 % higher than Wal-Mart’s, and its employees have health insurance, dental, and retirement benefits.” 

“I challenge Wal-Mart to abide by the Ten Commandments of Good Corporate Citizenship,” Sen. Kennedy declared. He wants them to pay living wages, provide affordable health care, pay overtime, not bust unions, treat women equally, not discriminate against people of color, not support sweatshops, not violate child labor laws, provide safe working conditions, and not dump toxic waste. 

The growing popularity of such documentaries indicates that they fulfill a news function that the corporate media fails to offer, especially when it comes to criticizing other corporations.  

Shepherd Bliss writes for the Hawai’i Island Journal and can be reached at:

For More Information 

Other Articles by Shepherd Bliss

* “The Mother We All Long For”: On Cindy Sheehan’s New Book
* Wall Street Journal Advice on Global Warming: A Perspective from the Island of Hawai’i
* Time Magazine Finally Covers Peak Oil
* Water and Wind as Dance Partners and the Warming Globe
* Chevron, Peak Oil, and China
* Volcanoes, Oil, and Prophets
* Celebrating the Holidays During our Dark Age
* Michael Moore’s Flaming Thunderbolt