Several days ago, Walmart convened an economic summit with other companies, assorted suppliers and politicians.
The event, which attracted representatives from 500 manufacturers, eight governors, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and officials from three dozen states, is occurring seven months after the Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter pledged that it planned to buy $50 billion more US made goods over the next decade. That's the equivalent of just more than 10 percent of what Wal-Mart will sell at retail this year.The 'good' news is that this will supposedly create more jobs in the U.S. The bad news is that it is an indication that employment in the U.S. is now at levels competitive with overseas sweatshops. More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Let's be very clear: the mission of Walmart is NOT to create good-paying jobs, support local communities, or make the world a better place. The mission of Walmart is to A) make the Walton family even richer, keep the stockholders happy, and sell cheap goods at the highest margin they can get away with, by paying employees and suppliers as little as possible. And while they're doing that, they're also driving local businesses under with a net job loss as a result.
Walmart is putting their happy face to work on this.
The $50 billion we’ve committed over 10 years is additional growth on top of the two-thirds we’re already spending to buy products that are made, sourced or grown in the United States. That growth will include dollars that we aren’t currently spending on products that we’re not offering today, as well as growth in existing products and shifting existing items to U.S. production. As an industry, with other retailers’ participation we could set our sights higher to drive $500 billion in new purchases over the next 10 years. That’s what an American renewal looks like.
Over at Salon, Stacy Mitchell in a piece picked up from Alternet takes a closer look at those numbers.
This sounds pretty substantial, but in fact it’s just a more sophisticated and media savvy version of Walmart’s hollow 1980s Buy America campaign. For starters, $50 billion over a decade may sound huge at first, but measured against Walmart’s galactic size, it’s not. An additional $5 billion a year amounts to only 1.5 percent of what Walmart currently spends on inventory.emphasis added
Worse, very little of this small increase in spending on American-made goods will actually result in new U.S. production and jobs. Most of the projected increase will simply be a byproduct of Walmart’s continued takeover of the grocery industry. Most grocery products sold in the U.S. are produced here. As Walmart expands its share of U.S. grocery sales — it now captures 25 percent, up from 6 percent in 1998 — it will buy more U.S. foods. But this doesn’t mean new jobs, because other grocers are losing market share and buying less. What it does mean is lower wages. As I reported earlier this year, Walmart’s growing control of the grocery sector is pushing down wages throughout food production.
As Mitchell notes, an earlier Walmart "Buy American" campaign 30 years ago turned out to be a sham. NBC Dateline reported on it in 1992. A 2005 Dateline report looks at the economics behind bargain prices and slave labor, which lays out in graphic terms the way Walmart and other big chains profit from exploiting low wage workers overseas.
But just as discouraging is the reaction of one shopper confronted with the real cost of the cheap pants she's buying.
Customer: “It is what it is, you know. I can't tell her, ‘Don't put the stripes on the pants.’"The American customer has a far richer life than the garment worker making the cheap pants - but both of them are barely getting by in their respective societies. And Walmart profits from them both.
While she feels for Masuma [Bangladeshi garment worker], she says her budget is tight. She cleans houses for a living. It’s the debate over globalization in its simplest form.
Hansen [Dateline reporter]: “So if this was 25 cents more, though, would you pay it?”
Customer: “You notice they had some for $18 and I passed the $18 one.”
Hansen: “So this means a lot for you that you can buy these products for this price. You're counting your pennies as well?”
Customer: “Of course I have to, because I got a mortgage to pay and a car payment and everything. You know, I feel sorry for people, but what can I do?”
When Walmart promises to Buy American to help the economy, they're actually doing the opposite. They're driving down wages, pressuring suppliers. When Walmart grows, it results in a net loss of jobs and a lower standard of living. And let's not even get into how Walmart is being subsidized by the government at our expense.
Walmart is NOT creating jobs OR wealth: it is extracting them from the rest of the economy. They're NOT "growing the pie" - they're just cutting themselves a bigger slice. Walmart is effectively a cancer growing on the American economy.
The biggest boost Walmart could give to the economy is simple: start paying their workers more, and start putting more of them on full time schedules. Ditto for the rest of the big corporations that follow the Walmart model.