Walmart: Fool Me Once…. May, 2012

I admit it. I drank the Kool-Aid. When Walmart proposed opening in Somerville I was interested in learning more. After all, they said they were cleaning up their act. The CEO acknowledged that better business practices would make Walmart a better company. They claimed they were improving their labor practices, providing health care coverage for more employees, and developing initiatives to help promote women. They seemed commitment to selling fresh, less expensive organic food in underserved areas, and they have an aggressive energy conservation plan. Maybe a small Walmart Neighborhood Market in Somerville wouldn’t be a bad thing. The location – the site a former Circuit City next to a Home Depot overlooking Interstate 93, isn’t exactly an oasis for independent, locally owned businesses. Maybe some members of our community would benefit from better access to less expensive, fresh food. Who would Walmart in Somerville hurt? Stop ‘n Shop is owned by a Dutch conglomerate, and Shaw’s by a company in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Maybe the two local grocery chains, Market Basket and Food Master, would feel the pinch. And while that would be unfortunate, perhaps with a store here, some of our non-profits could get a chunk of money from the Walmart Foundation.

Boy, was I wrong! Come to find out that while Walmart were busy polishing their image here, in Mexico they were delivering envelopes full of cash to mayors and city council members, urban planners and permitting agents – anyone who might stand in their way. $24 million in bribes bought zoning approvals, reduced environmental impact fees and the consent of community leaders. And when the big cheeses at Walmart headquarters were told what was going on by their own people, they shut down the internal investigation and then promoted the guy in who’d been charge of Walmart de Mexico.

So what does this have to do with us? Everyone knows that there are places where slipping someone something under the table is how business is done. The wink, the nod, the greasing of a palm – its all part of the game. Who does it hurt? It hurts all of us. It hurts us when we try to buy goods at a fair price in an open market. It hurts the companies that do business honestly. Corruption, fraud and cover-up undermine the integrity of the marketplace, and our trust in those we buy from. This is a corporation with a win at all costs, let’s stick it to the other guy culture. Why on earth would we let a company like this set up shop in our community?

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