Under fire in the US, Walmart is looking to Canada for its next big bonanza. The controversial company is planning to invest close to half a billion dollars in a massive Canadian expansion.
The retail giant revolutionized American merchandising and spread across the globe, becoming one of the world’s most prized investment stocks. But it is being reviled in its home country for a multitude of reasons, including its substandard wages and its practice of strong-arming suppliers into moving production facilities to China.
President Obama has been pressing for a federal minimum wage and has decreed that federal contractors must pay at least $10.10 an hour. There is significant momentum for raising the minimum wage across the country, and one argument in favor is that companies like Walmart are subsidized by the current rate. They can pay the existing minimum wage of $7.25, leaving their employees to depend on food stamps and other government assistance to survive.
The fact that four descendants of Walmart founder Sam Walton – who became a legend for his frugality – are together worth as much as the poorest 40 percent of their fellow-Americans has also sparked outrage in the media. A recent Gawker article declared:
The Waltons are the richest family in the world. They are the new Rockefellers, the modern synonym for “vast wealth.” And indeed, income inequality in America has reached levels not seen since John D. Rockefeller roamed the earth. The Waltons are the kings and queens of our new Gilded Age.
Walmart superstores are also criticized for killing off traditional retailers across the country.And consumers’ resentment has helped spur development of a a movement favoring smaller food outlets, such as farmers markets.
The global giant is also known for bullying politicians and trampling on public sentiment to build stores in the most productive locations, even if these locations happen to be in a national forest or some other protected area.
With this kind of track record, Walmart’s Olympics commercial is puzzling. An empty American factory promises it will be whirring again, revived by Walmart’s money – $250 billion over the next 10 years.
What can it mean?
Is this the dawning of a pro-American era for Walmart? Are the Walton’s developing a conscience at last?
Or is this just a PR campaign to counter the barrage of bad press the retailer has been receiving in the US?
The company’s attempt to project a more responsible image could be a prelude to their Canadian invasion. While Americans revere the “free market” and hesitate to demand that companies like Walmart keep the common good in mind, Canadians have no such qualms. In Canada, everyone, even giants, must play by the rules. And the people’s elected representatives are the ones who set those rules, not global corporations.