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Topic: Student Questions
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Ethics And Social Responsibility At Wal-mart
Posted by Anonymous on
5/21/2008 at 10:23 AM ET
How does wal-mart account for its ethical and social responsibilities?
5/21/2008 at 12:52 PM
5/22/2008 at 12:22 PM
Target vs. Wal*Mart
Hot on the heels of my last post, I read a fantastic article about Target and how it is, or is not, similar to Wal*Mart. The article is well written and provides an excellent overview for anyone interested in reading more about the two companies: Target: Wal-Mart Lite.
The article begins with a discussion of how the two companies, despite their apparent surface differences, are quite similar:
“In contrast to [Target's higher-end] image, however, critics say that in terms of wages and benefits, working conditions, sweatshop-style foreign suppliers, and effects on local retail communities, big box Target stores are very much like Wal-Mart, just in a prettier package.
“Of more than 1,400 Target stores employing more than 300,000 people nationwide, not one has a union. Employees at various stores say an anti-union message and video is part of the new-employee orientation. At stores in the Twin Cities, where Target is headquartered, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Local 789 has been trying for several years to help Target employees organize, with little luck.”
An interesting point of fact that the article brought up deals with the reality of the garment industry. Whether you feel passionately about sweat shop labor or not, it is hard to dispute the following statement:
“‘The way the global garment industry is, there are so few factories that respect workers’ rights that there is no way Target gets its clothes from workplaces where workers’ rights are being respected,’ said Allie Robbins, national organizer of the group United Students Against Sweatshops.”
The first portion of the statement is what really stuck in my mind. Whether or not I think worker’s rights are important, the reality of the global garment manufacturing industry is so widespread and commonplace, that it truly is difficult for a company of Target’s size to find a supplier that isn’t doing something questionable. However, and this is what frustrates me most, the situation is largely being perpetuated by the Targets and Wal*Marts of the world (and the consumers that gobble up cheap goods, but I digress…). Imagine if the 100 largest retailers in the world suddenly decided not to tolerate sweat shop labor, poor working conditions, environmental destruction, or a host of other issues. Do you think they could promote change through such action?
“Target doesn’t differ from most major clothing vendors; you usually have to seek out small specialty companies to find union-made, American-made textiles. But as one of the country’s major retailers, Target is an industry leader, fostering and profiting from the U.S.’s general culture of consumerism: We buy, buy, buy at ever lower prices in a market system sustained by very low-paid, non-union workforces in impoverished countries.”
The article also raises an interesting point about the negative impact anti-Wal*Mart efforts have had. In short, as public criticism of Wal*Mart has grown and started to impact what the company does, Target (and presumably, similar companies) have quietly slipped into the resulting vacancies:
“That is what happened last fall in West St. Paul, Minn. [Wal*Mart being opposed while Target was welcomed], where a new Target reaped $731,000 in local tax breaks, while 30 miles away, Ham Lake was fighting Wal-Mart’s efforts to open a superstore. The Target in downtown Minneapolis received $68 million in public subsidies, according to the Star Tribune newspaper. In Chicago in 2004, a city-wide coalition formed to oppose two proposed Wal-Marts and the fight roiled the city council for months. Meanwhile at least three new Target stores have been built in the metro area in the last several years.”
The article does have some positive things to present about Target, namely that the company seems more charity and community-focused than Wal*Mart:
“Target does more proportionately for the community in the form of community grants and charity than Wal-Mart does, and spends considerably less boating about it. According to the company website, which says Target donates more than $2 million a week to local and national non-profit organizations. The company gives grants of $1,000 to $3,000 to community organizations, and shoppers can donate 1 percent of Target REDcard charges to a local school. The website says more than $154 million has been donated to schools since 1997. The company also runs Target House, a luxury residential facility in Memphis where families can stay while their seriously ill children are treated at a nearby medical center.
“In comparison, Wal-Mart, with revenue of $288 billion in 2005, donated $200 million (or 7/100ths of a percent) to charities and organizations in 2005, according to its web site.”
And finally, if you think there is no hope for large retailers, the article notes that at least one exists with an interest in doing the right thing:
“Even other major big box retailers have managed to pay significantly higher wages and achieve higher employee retention. The prices at Costco Wholesale Corp., the nation’s fifth largest retailer, are competitive with those at Target and Wal-Mart, but it pays full-time employees an average of around $16 an hour along with generous health benefits….Costco pulls this off by offering fewer brands of each item, keeping infrastructure costs low and forgoing advertising; and the company also benefits financially from low employee turnover.”
5/22/2008 at 12:23 PM
In the World that we live in at the moment, there are corporate scandals and great social concern on the part of businesses , governments, non profit organizations and educational institutions.
To answer your question, ethics and social responsiblity are core values that every business that wants to sustain its existance should have.
There is a term called Multiple Bottom Lines that is being used increasingly now. This term applies to the financial reporting of businesses. Many businesses are now going beyond the traditional P&L statements to include things like Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Development in their annual statements.
The social work being done by many organizations today is stepping up the need and awareness on these issues. It is my belief that in time these values will have to be adopted by all businesses, big and small.
Hope this help.
5/22/2008 at 12:24 PM
Consumer reactions: research shows that a growing number of consumers will reward ethical companies by paying premium prices for their products and services, and punish unethical companies by boycotting their offerings. Boycotts can range from a private decision not to purchase to a large social action group (Nestle Baby Food, McLibel, Shell in Nigeria and Brent Sea).
Staff: attracting good people is key to business. Employees are considering the companies Triple Bottom Line performance before accepting job offers.
Analysts and investors: SRI (Social Responsible Investments) screen companies on predetermined criteria set out by the global reporting initiative (GRI). Companies that perform well on these factors are included in ethical hedge funds.
Research shows that companies that are serious about CSR do better financially than companies that are not.
6/1/2008 at 7:24 AM
I am closing this question since there has been no activity in 10 days.
Thanks for participating!
Carrie (Production Editor)
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