Monday, April 24, 2006

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

As I mentioned in my previous post, these days we get basically all our movies and DVDs from the library. One that just came our way via interlibrary loan that we watched last night was the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. This film surveys the economic and environmental impact of Wal-Mart on local communities, the lived realities of Wal-Mart's employees and factory workers, and much more. It reinforced my understanding of Wal-Mart as perhaps the ultimate expression of the law of unintended consequences - initially good principles of thrift and cost-saving, taken to global extremes, results in exploitation and harm to workers.

One segment featured a coalition of local community residents and activists that worked together to keep Wal-Mart from building in their area. Interestingly enough, this had the most directly Christian critique of Wal-Mart. Local pastors and church leaders studied Wal-Mart's impact on communities and concluded that for them as Christians, social justice and care for the poor meant lobbying against Wal-Mart. They saw Christian responsibility not in terms of free market capitalism or economic bargain-hunting, but in terms of protecting the least of these by opposing Wal-Mart.

After reading an article in Christianity Today a while back about Wal-Mart, I've mitigated my position somewhat from a knee-jerk "Wal-Mart is evil" stance to more of a "Wal-Mart is a fallen institution." There is certainly much about Wal-Mart that is well-intentioned, but ultimately, the effects of their business practices seem beyond redemption. And I'm sure it's not just Wal-Mart - virtually every discount retailer probably has some business practices that profiteer on low-wage employees and factory workers. But Wal-Mart's sheer size and legendary ruthlessness makes them far more damaging in their impact than basically all other discount retailers combined.

Anyway, all this to say - see this movie. Like Super Size Me or The Corporation, it's a documentary that has the potential to change how you participate in consumer culture. (And the spoof commercials are hilarious!)

1 comment:

Karen Sloan said...

Hi Al -
It sounds like we have a similar taste in documentaries - and to add two more to your list, _Control Room_ and _Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room_ are also worth taking the time to watch. Being a part of InterVarsity can be such an unexpected mix of being both conservative evangelical Christian and progressive social activist. (not to mention being monastic ;-).

Karen