The year 2005 has been another banner year for growth and development Wal-Mart. With over 5,000 stores and millions of loyal customers, there is no sign of slowing down for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company. The low-cost retail store chain has been adding stores throughout the U.S. at a rapid pace, but is finding more opposition to its development plans than ever. Local government leaders and municipalities are discovering that citizens and outside activists are just as motivated to stop the growth of Wal-Mart as leaders are to spur economic development by allowing a new store to be built in their back yard.
In Marysville, Washington (near Seattle), hearing examiner Ron McConnell recently fielded demands from local critics, who asked for more environmental analysis before a new store was built. Traffic patterns and noise pollution are just some of the minor concerns that he heard about, however. Unions decry Wal-Mart’s labor practices, which they say usually include low pay and no health insurance. The struggling U.S. manufacturing industry has frequently pointed to Wal-Mart’s reliance on overseas factories in countries like China, where sweatshops, minimal wages and poor working conditions abound. Others suggest that local “mom and pop” establishments get swept aside by the supergiant retailer’s inventory and rock-bottom prices.
A recently released documentary has created even more headaches for the company. “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” was released on November 13th in theaters across the country. The movie taps into the anger of disgruntled former employees and communicates a decidedly anti-Wal-Mart message. The movie is the latest in a series of well-orchestrated media campaigns led by left-leaning organizations such as ACORN, labor unions and even politicians.
Wal-Mart discounts many of the portrayals in the movie and points to the filmmaker’s involvement in numerous anti-corporate efforts. Nevertheless, the company has been forced to defend itself as it hears concerns from employees as well as consumers and finds development plans more difficult. The company has created a website, Wal-Mart Facts, to answer critics and demonstrate that Wal-Mart contributes more to local communities and that its benefits are good for consumers and communities alike.