Why I Donít Shop at Wal-Mart

Anne Zabolio

Third Essay

Cultural Anthropology


I love Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart has inexpensive large plastic boxes with tops and shoes not made of leather. It has cheap but colorful kitchen gadgets and absorbent cotton bath towels. It has low cost cleaning supplies and replacement carafes for my coffeepot. Last week, I received an attractive flyer in the mail (attached), advising me of a plethora of items on sale, items Iím sure I need. In short, it has everything for a good, middle-class wannabe American life at a price I can afford. And itís all under one roof. And itís conveniently located. Why would I boycott Wal-Mart? I love Wal-Mart!

A friend who has done considerable study of maquiladoras suggested that I look into Wal-Martís labor practices before I make a decision to shop there further. "Whatís a maquiladora?" I asked. My friend referred me to the World Wide Web. According to Electric Library at http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08029.html, maquiladoras are:

assembly plants along the U.S.-Mexico border, generally owned by non-Mexican corporations, that produce finished goods for the U.S. market...they depend on low-cost labor, advantageous tariffs, and their proximity to the U.S. A multibillion dollar industry, maquiladoras constitute one of Mexico's primary sources of export income and have stimulated migration to the border cities.

Well, that sounds good. Why would I want to boycott that? I decided to find out more about maquiladoras. I talked to my friends who had visited maquiladoras in Ciudad Acuña. "Visited" is not quite right; "tried to visit" is more appropriate. My friends, Donna Blevins and her partner, were kept out of the plants by armed guards. Companies, including Sunbeam and Kimberly-Clark, have tried to create corporate cultures within their maquiladora compounds. They have covered eating areas and basketball courts for their employees, which reminded Donna of exercise yards she had seen at Alcatraz (Blevins, interview 5-3-00).

I next talked with Josefina Castillo of the American Friends Service Committee. Ms. Castillo works with Border Committee of Women Workers, an organization trying to help and/or organize women in maquiladoras in seven cities along the Texas-Mexico border. She said that most of the maquiladoras have armed guards with walkie-talkies. Those in Cuidad Acuña are outside of the city, but many maquiladoras are located in industrial parks within the city, like the industrial park in Piedras Negras, ironically named Amistad, meaning "friendship" (Castillo, interview, 5-3-00).

Ms. Castillo found that workers who are in a union or trying to organize are harassed by managers and supervisors to such a point that they are even followed to the bathroom. They have no chairs and must work standing. The products of some maquiladoras require the use of dangerous chemicals prohibited in the U.S. The Committeeís work includes educating women about their rights, about the chemicals and how they can protect themselves. Once the workers have the information, they often demand protection and benefits. This is usually managementís cue to harass or fire these workers. More men are now working in the maquiladoras than five years ago, but most of the workers are still women (Castillo, interview, 5-3-00).

I located the Wal-Mart Watch website at http://www.walmartwatch.com/#top. I went to a linked website, http://www.walmartwatch.com/bad/internal.cfm?subsection_id=110&internal _id=253, and read about one of Wal-Martís assembly plants in Puebla, Mexico. In this factory, workers must work up to 14 hours a day, six days a week for $.61 an hour. The filthy restroom facilities are without supplies or working equipment. Workers are searched going in and coming out of the factory and new employees must take a mandatory pregnancy test. Armed guards prohibit public access to the plant (Wal-Mart Watch, "Bad Neighbor", 2, article attached).

Are maquiladores only a Mexican phenomenon? Or do they share characteristics with multinationals in other countries? Clicking and reading to answer this question, I discovered that, not only are these companies similar to factories located in other countries and controlled by corporations located in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, but Wal-Mart has factories in other countries as well (Wal-Mart Watch, "Bad Neighbor," 1-3, article attached).

I read about Wal-Martís oppression of workers, usually women, around the world. In another Wal-Mart facility further south in the Sacatepequez, Guatemala, workers must work up to 14 Ĺ hours a day, six days a week, for $.65 a hour and are suspended if they refuse to work overtime. They are timed when going to the bathroom and, again, the plant is patrolled by armed guards who refuse access to the public. In Bangladesh, young women work 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days a week with no health care or maternity leave for $.09 to $.20, with less than one-third the legal overtime rate (Wal-Mart Watch, "Bad Neighbor," 1-2, article attached).

Wal-Mart is not alone in its treatment of workers. Workers organized at Mandarin, Inc., a San Salvador, El Salvador multinational based in Taiwan, to fight improper compensation for overtime, bathroom visit restrictions and physical abuse. Initially fired for joining the union, workers have since been promised their jobs back when (and if) the work load picks up. President David Wang failed to respond to the workersí problems, instead stating that Mandarinís business has fallen off due to problems with the union. Dr. Norman Quijano, an assemblyman with the ruling, conservative party, ARENA, said that the workersí claims were exaggerated and that workers should use the government channels to address any wrongs in the companies, instead of "leftist organizations with a political agenda of their own," as if he had none (Cearly) (National Radio Project).

Is it the fact that the management of Wal-Mart and other multinationals see the people who work for them in other countries as "other," the not-quite-as-human-as-we-are syndrome? In Wal-Martís case, it seems that this attitude is theirs at home, too. Wal-Mart has lied in court, sexually harassed its workers, destroyed evidence, fired white people for dating black people, wrongly accused workers of stealing, annihilated jobs within communities, used false patriotism to sell their products, sold illegal copies of items, failed to offer health coverage for most employees, and refused to disclose is which countries its products are manufactured (Wal-Mart Watch, "Wal of Shame," 1, article attached). Perhaps everyone is "other" to Wal-Mart management.

My research convinced me that this company is not one in which I wish to put my trust nor my dollars. Fortunately, Target opened a superstore in my neighborhood. My friends who did the maquiladora research says that Target has a better track record at home and abroad in treating its employees fairly. Until I do some research on Target, at least, Iíll be shopping there instead.

Works Cited

Blevins, Donna. Interview, 3 May 2000.

Castillo, Josefina. Interview, 3 May 2000.

Cearley, Anna.

"Union highlights factory workers' plight in El Salvador: Industry officials say new laws have led to drop in investment." The Dallas Morning News. 21 July 1996. Electric Library. <http://www.elibrary.com/id/150/212/getdoc.cgi?id=163294002x127y44040w0&OIDS=0Q001D002&Form=RL&pubname=The_Dallas_Morning_News&puburl=http~C~~S~~S~www.dallasnews.com&querydocid=792784@library_f&dtype=0~0&dinst=0>. 2 May 2000.

Electric Library. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08029.html>. 3 May 2000.

National Radio Project. Behind Brand Names: U.S. Companies and Foreign Labor. 9 December 1998. <http://www.radioproject.org/transcripts/9849.html>. 3 May 2000.

Wal-Mart Watch. "Bad Neighbor." <http://www.walmartwatch.com/bad/internal.cfm?subsection_id=110&internal _id=253>. 2 May 2000.

Wal-Mart Watch. "Wal of Shame." <http://www.walmartwatch.com/wal>. 4 May 2000.