Once more, it is Advent. This holy season, when people of faith are preparing for Christmas, is also known to those of you in retail as The Holiday Shopping Season. Unlike Advent, which is always celebrated during the four weeks before Christmas, The Holiday Shopping Season comes earlier every year. In fact, this year, it began on Halloween! Not that you object to that at all—you don’t. In fact, as the epitome of the American retail experience, you unceasingly promote the idea that this is a season of shopping, rather than a season of sharing. The real meaning of the season of Advent either completely escapes you, or you deliberately obfuscate, in order that you may continue to line your pockets and to fill your storehouses with treasure. Rather than prepare our hearts, you would prefer that we prepare our credit cards.
Walmart, your stores represent all that is negative and destructive about retail. You, Walmart Corporation, encourage overconsumption, treat your employees unfairly and practice predatory pricing—selling goods below market value with the intent of reducing competition and insuring high profits—24.5% in 2012! Allow me to provide some examples.
“Why Can’t I Have Whatever I Want?”
-the American Consumer
“Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
Walmart, I know you have been preparing for this season all year. You intend to whip me into a buying frenzy and as soon as my desire is at a fever pitch, you will separate me from my money. Immediately upon entering your stores, fierce shopping pressure begins. I am goaded by sound systems that blare deafening music. I am assaulted with lights, both bright and plentiful–many strobe. I am drawn, zombie-like, to shelves stocked full with cheap, imported goods. It is a jarring, unnerving environment. It is an environment carefully crafted to encourage me to spend my money. It is an environment created to insure that I feel inadequate, in my deepest heart, without the purchase of your cheaply made, overpriced consumer goods.
Great deals, door-busters, one hour specials, limited time offers—all of these strategies are intended to incite a feeling of anxiety in me. The illusion of scarcity you create is intended to spur me to buy–early and often. You want me to shop without ceasing in a frantic, grasping attempt to blot out the real meaning of this season. And especially, you want me to shop to fill your pockets.
In the Walmart environment, there is no way to experience the feeling of “enough”. As you strive to create in me an insatiable desire to consume, I am overwhelmed by a delirium of goods, intended to be taken with a side of lights and music.
As the words from Luke’s Parable of the Rich Fool remind us, the measure of my life is not the amount of goods I can acquire. Just because I can purchase an item, should I? NO. With other people of faith, I have come to understand the American level of consumption to be unsustainable. In response to your relentless pressure to buy, I propose instead relentless sharing. Instead of goods, I propose gifts of time and our experience.
The voices of those around us who are in need of the basic necessities of life, and the voices of those who need spiritual sustenance, are muffled under the avalanche of material goods that you have helped to create. Excess goods not only insulate us from our own pain, but prevent us from hearing the cries of others. When we are busy guarding our earthly, material treasures, and filling our inner voids with stuff, we deny space in our hearts for the spiritual gifts available to us–through relationships with others, or with the divine. It is impossible for us to hear God’s call above the clanging din inside your stores. God’s voice is found in solitude and silence.
I know, of course, that you would rather I not hear God, since that still small voice is not urging me to shop, but to open my heart and to remember the poor.
By These Fruits Shall We Know You
Walmart, you consistently pay your workers low wages. You deny this. But according to Bloomberg, about 3044 lawsuits since 2009 involved issues of employment, like wages. These lawsuits tell a story of deprivation and exploitation. Your employees cannot support their families on the wages you pay.
Couple your pay practices with those of racial and gender discrimination, and you have all the necessary ingredients for worker oppression. You say you are a good corporate citizen, but what you do shows me otherwise.
The parable of the Tree and Its Fruits, Luke 6:43-45, tells us that it’s who you are, not what you say, that counts. We can see who you are by how you treat workers in stores and factories. Please be patient while I mention just few examples.
This year’s average wage of $8.81/hour allows a full time worker to make $17,000 annually. This forces a family of 3 or more to live below the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($19,530)for this size family. If you do not believe this to be true, I urge you to visit this website: http://www.familiesusa.org/resources/tools-for-advocates/guides/federal-poverty-guidelines.html.
Your own founder, Sam Walton, admitted in an interview to taking advantage of being able to pay low wages and offer few benefits! As reported in the New York Times, you force your employees to come in early and to work late, without pay. This practice of “off the clock” hours has been proven to be widespread! Yet, you continue to deny this practice exists.
It is not possible for me to believe what you say about your workers, or your working conditions, when your workers sue you regularly. In many places, they are even eligible for government assistance. It is clear to me that what you are practicing is mistreatment. And it is clear to me that you lie about it!
Let’s take another example. In China, the country that makes most of the goods for sale in your stores, workers are sometimes prisoners, forced by their captors to work for no pay at all. Other foreign workers make as little as .14/day. These workers often include children. They work in factories that are poorly lit and have unsafe wiring. There have been deaths from fires in these factories. You deny purchasing goods from these sweatshops, but investigators have shown me proof of Walmart-labelled garments visible in photographs taken after fires, and smuggled out by workers.
Walmart, I urge you to pay the workers in all of your stores enough to raise their incomes above the Federal Poverty Level. Additionally, I urge you to join with those socially responsible businesses who allow open access to their overseas factories by human rights groups. Your foreign workers too, need a living wage, appropriate to their local economic situation. They need sanitation and health care. Most of all they need their freedom.
Rather than spend your time and energy trying to convince me that you are a caring employer and a conscientious purchaser, simply change your behavior. Then, tell me the truth about what you do. Show me that you have compassion, and a concern for people above profits. The fruits of these actions will speak louder than any of your words.
Now, let’s talk about predatory pricing. Forcing your suppliers to keep costs low, and canceling your contracts with those who don’t, allows you to to charge less than other sellers for the same item. Since you have trained consumers to flock to the lowest price available, the result of your pricing policy is that other stores can’t compete. When you move into a town, locally owned stores are driven out.
Although it might seem to be a buyer benefit to be able to buy at a low price, in reality it is a buyer cost. Your low prices come at the expense of other businesses who once paid a living wage.
You locate your stores outside town. Consumers need cars to shop at your stores. Town centers, where local businesses traditionally locate, are left with rows of empty storefronts The very people that you purport to benefit are denied access to goods because of your policies on pricing and location.
Predatory pricing promotes exclusivity, too. When your store becomes the only one left in the area, the diversity of goods available, and the convenience of shopping locally, is effectively erased.
Walmart, I know that this is a long letter and I have probably stretched your patience. But since I am not shopping this year, I have lots of time to to be still and to dream about the kind of world I would like to live in. It is much different than the kind of world I now share with you. I want this dream to become reality. I want you to help make my dream real.
In closing, I want to remind you of all you have done to degrade the environment and to force your workers, and their families, into poverty. The abundance of cheap goods available from you is just amazing.
Perhaps now that many of your family members have a personal jet and a villa in Tuscany, you could consider the impact of your actions on the world in which we all live and scale back your profiteering–just a little? Maybe during this season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of the radical teacher known as Jesus, you could pause in your frenzied money making to remember the poor? I hope so.
Yours in faith,
(Verses from The Message Bible; Eugene H. Peterson, 2013)