Walmart - The High Cost of Low Price (Tartan DVD. A Robert Greenwald Film)
Almost everyone has heard of Walmart (Asda in the UK) but many are unaware of the effects of its practices on populations around the world. Owned by the Walton family, who collectively are worth around $100 billion, Walmart has the world's largest work force of any private employer. This makes this in-depth scrutiny of the impact of globalisation for profit highly pertinent.
Impoverishment, destruction of communities and non-unionised and illegal work practices figure strongly as do the sometimes clear, sometimes opaque links to government policy-making in the USA. Walmart moves into town promising employment, builds a megastore structure and hires staff, displays every commodity that can already be found in town (and more), undercuts local prices and very soon oversees the closure of long-established, formerly successful small family businesses – causing unemployment, ghost towns and impoverishment of communities. If a community is strong enough to fight and either prevent the actual build or force closure then Walmart simply ups sticks and moves a few miles outside the town or county border and the end results for the community are the same.
There is a strong anti-union imperative within the company and such a climate of fear of punishment among employees that it was very difficult to find current workers in the US ready to speak out on record. Ex-employees, however, were less reluctant. National employment laws are different around the world. One example of workers defying the Walmart no union rule was in Quebec, Canada, where they were successful in forming a union (according to local law) with the result that Walmart won anyway – they just closed down.
How is it that Walmart can give such cheap prices and offer two for the price of one? Benevolence from a caring, hugely profitable megabusiness? No, they simply pass the cost on to the farmers or other suppliers. He who pays the piper… The film doesn't stop at covering the retail side of the business; also there are interviews and filmed information from China, Bangladesh, Honduras and Saipan (US territory) to reveal the impact of the Walmart style of sweatshop labour and conditions around the world.
This film could be an excellent stimulus when viewed together by a group prepared to discuss and further understand the ways in which capitalism systematically works against workers, against regulations, against communities and for the ongoing accumulation of the few.
» About the Film:
FRONTLINE offers two starkly contrasting images: one of Circleville, Ohio, where the local TV manufacturing plant has closed down; the other -- a sea of high rises in the South China boomtown of Shenzhen. The connection between American job losses and soaring Chinese exports? Wal-Mart. For Wal-Mart, China has become the cheapest, most reliable production platform in the world, the source of up to $25 billion in annual imports that help the company deliver everyday low prices to 100 million customers a week. But while some economists credit Wal-Mart's single-minded focus on low costs with helping contain U.S. inflation, others charge that the company is the main force driving the massive overseas shift to China in the production of American consumer goods, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and a lower standard of living here at home.
» A Note to Teachers:
For classes in Social Studies, American Government, Current Events and Economics;
Grade level 9th-12th
"Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" provides a provocative examination of the impact Wal-Mart has had on the U.S. economy. The documentary highlights the changing relationship between manufacturers and the so-called "big-box" retailers, exemplified by Wal-Mart, that has contributed to the bankruptcy of some American businesses and a growing unemployment rate. While Wal-Mart supporters tout the advantages of one-stop, low-cost shopping, others are alarmed at both the outsourcing that has made these low prices possible and how large retailers affect smaller, local businesses. FRONTLINE examines the winners and the losers as it documents how:
- Global retailers are superceding manufacturers in making decisions about product quality, type and price.
- A basic flaw in the United States-China trade relationship is that we can afford to buy Chinese products, but they cannot afford to buy ours.
- Wal-Mart has approximately 6,000 global suppliers; 80 percent of these are from China.
- China is becoming the biggest producer of high-tech products in the world.
- TCL, a Chinese company, is now the largest producer of televisions in the world, and almost all of their U.S. exports go to Wal-Mart.
- The United States is exporting raw materials to Third World countries and importing their manufactured products, which is a reversal of former economic relations.
- In 2003, the United States had a $120 billion trade deficit with China, and it is expected to be even higher in 2004.
A list of questions for students to discuss after viewing "Is Wal-Mart Good For America?"
» Featured Lesson Plan:
Are Low Prices Always a Good Thing?
Students will examine the costs and benefits of outsourcing for consumers, manufacturers, retailers and workers in the United States by:
- Completing a viewer's guide for the documentary
- Researching the costs and benefits of outsourcing
» Additional Lesson Ideas:
Students will use information from the film and/or additional research to create a persuasive letter, poem or cartoon that illustrates their viewpoint.
Outsourcing and Campaign Promises
Students will explore the different approaches to outsourcing advocated by the Democratic and Republican political parties in the 2004 campaign.
Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town
These online lesson plans will allow students to:
- Study the advantages and disadvantages of allowing a major chain store into their community
- Role-play persons involved in the study by simulating a talk show
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of accepting a chain store into a community
» Purchasing the Film:
"Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" can be purchased from Shop PBS for Teachers. Also, teachers and students can watch the film streamed in its entirety on FRONTLINE's Web site.
This teacher's guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants. It was written by Patricia Grimmer of Carbondale High School, Carbondale, Illinois. Advisers were Ellen Greenblatt of University High School, San Francisco and Michelle McVicker of the Rutherford County Schools, Tennessee.