Wal-Mart has been part of our lives for over half a century now, being a dominant force in the retail sector. However, there are several debates among economists whether the company has a positive or negative influence on our society and economy, where many of them criticize it for its careless approach to becoming the powerhouse it has become today. Although it is good to hear out ideas from these experts, we, as consumers, can also have our own thoughts about this mega-retailer. To come up with an informed and wise decision, let us look at its pros and cons.
List of Pros of Wal-Mart
1. Wal-Mart Economy
According to the economic advisor to President Barack Obama, James Furman, Wal-Mart and the “Wal-Mart economy” has been doing good for the American workers and low-income families who cannot afford to purchase more expensive products made in the US. Also, tax payers pay part of the healthcare costs of the retailer’s employees. In his work titled “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story”, there is no question that the company’s price reductions have provided benefits to millions of American workers who are employed outside the retail industry.
2. Varied Selection of Products
Whatever product you need at Wal-Mart, there will be a section for you to check out. You can head to the chain and purchase groceries for the week, buy electronic devices, get your car repaired and shop for clothes all in a single trip. It is truly a one-stop shop, unlike any other store of its kind. Moreover, it does not charge a membership fee in order for you to enjoy savings.
3. Low Prices
Wal-Mart is known for selling items at much lower prices than other retailers, which simply means that buying a product here, over a more locally owned store, can save you more money. Other retailers cannot compete with the low prices it offers. Many people even praise this giant retail chain for making it possible for them to afford goods they need most. Low prices are what the company is known for, and this is true for all its products, including electronics, food and everything in between.
4. Huge Employer
This corporation is the biggest private employer in the US and is vital to the country’s economy based on this statistics alone. The jobs that Wal-Mart creates are highly essential, making it one of the most important companies in the world.
5. Additional Business to Areas
When a new Wal-Mart store is built, its location immediately attracts additional businesses. Patrons from surrounding communities would travel into the area to do their shopping and would often stick around, spending their money at various local hubs. If a place does not have such a store of their own, its citizens would think of driving to somewhere that has one.
6. More Diverse Business Model
Wal-Mart investors are exposed to a more diverse business model, due to the fact that the company is growing to other countries, such as Mexico, Brazil and China. Though this attribute could also bring negative issues, such as language barriers, tax and other regulations, it is good for consumers no matter what language they speak. Plus, by having operations in multiple jurisdictions, investors gain exposure to other currencies and middle-class growth in other countries.
List of Cons of Wal-Mart
1. Bad Healthcare Coverage
According to critics, Wal-Mart is a highly regarded household name that has one of the worst health care policies in all of corporate America. To account for low wages, it pushes employees to get on several government-funded programs, such as Medicaid, public assistance and public housing. Since its founder’s death, it has been stated that several of its policies have been changed for the worst. It is not that the company does not offer health insurance to their employees; it just comes at a high price for workers earning minimum wage.
2. Anti-Employee Policies
It is stated that Wal-Mart shows little to no respect to its employees, where they are severely mistreated and their only purpose is to fit into the philosophy that the company looks out for itself. Statistics shows that from 1999 to 2005 alone, the store had been part of several class action lawsuits in different states involving hundreds of thousands of former and current employees who had their work hours and wages tampered with, as well as abused.
3. Illegal Citizens and Racism
In 2003, Wal-Mart was exposed to the public and charged for hiring illegal citizens to do some cleaning after hours. The case, which was led by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, lasted more than 4 years and produced a huge number of arrests of undocumented workers. However, the company managed to evade criminal sanctions by settling to pay millions of dollars and then disputed the claims racial and gender discrimination. More evidence of racism from Wal-Mart stores has been evident in the said cases.
4. Un-Environmentally Friendly Operations
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection signed a consent order and agreement with the corporation in 1999 to improve environmental construction throughout the state. The agreement was made due to Wal-Mart violating water quality laws and regulations at one of its construction sites. In 2001, the company was again fined a million dollars for a similar violation.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department reached an agreement with Wal-Mart to solve issues of clean water violations at several locations covering 5 states. This was the first ever federal enforcement against a company for multi-state violations, and the settlement forced the giant retail chain to create an environmental management plan that is worth millions of dollars to improve its compliance with the laws at each site and to minimize the result of building on watersheds and streams.
Now, with the above lists of pros and cons, it is up to us to see Wal-Mart as a positive and negative influence on our society. But, we should be smart in using their services to our advantage and satisfying our needs through them.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.