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Why I Boycott Wal-Mart

This morning amid the lingering #amazonfail discussion on Twitter came the question of whether or not one should boycott I responded that the only company I can be bothered to boycott is Wal-Mart, which I’ve been doing for about eight years. (One boycott is enough, right? How socially responsible do you expect me to be?)

I know that Wal-Mart doesn’t miss my former bi-weekly Dr. Pepper and Benadryl purchases, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have one less thing to feel guilty about. I’ve got unpaid bills, a never-opened box of baby gift thank-you cards, broken vows, overdue library books, white privilege, and 42 other things in the knapsack on my back. I don’t need Wal-Mart in there too.

A Twitter friend said (as people often do when the subject comes up) that she couldn’t boycott them because they had such great prices. I understand that. I also know it’s a fun store. I shopped there for years because my friend and I had a hell of a good time frolicking in the aisles while we saved money. (One trip we wasted an entire disposable camera taking pictures of each other.) Sure, I’d heard bad things about Wal-Mart; that they drove small businesses under, and forced record labels to censor CDs, but I could buy my CDs somewhere else and they had Benadryl for $3.97 a box. C’mon!

Then I got my first job as a Human Resources Manager. As a newly-minted professional, I subscribed to several HR email newsletters. Not a week went by, not a week! –excuse me for a moment while I channel Brodie– when I didn’t read about another lawsuit by Wal-Mart employees against the company. Sure, any employer can get sued, whether they deserve it or not, and sure, an employer the size of Wal-Mart is going to have a proportionately larger number of suits, but after a while I thought, “These people can’t all be wrong. There has to be something here.”

I eventually decided that I could not in good conscience give my money to a company that treated its employees that poorly. This CampusProgress article, even though it was written in 2005 and I started my boycott in 2001, gives a good feel for Wal-Mart’s legal issues at the time.

My boycott by now is a comforting habit. I did shop there once about a year and a half ago as an experiment to lower our grocery bill, but it just felt wrong being in the store. (And wouldn’t you know it, someone from work called my cell while I was there, asking to meet me where I was.) I’ve been thinking about it off and on today: what can I say about why I boycott Wal-Mart? How are things there in 2009?

A quick Google search tonight found three interesting things: an October ’08 article in the Montreal Gazette accusing Wal-Mart of closing a store (again) because the employees there organized, a January Bloomberg Politics Law podcast about 63 class-action wage & hour lawsuits entitled, “Wal-Mart Employee Settlements May Cost $640 Million,” and a February Boing Boing post by Charles Platt about his experience working there. (His summary: “Not so bad!” Summary of the comments: “You’re an idiot, Mr. Platt.”)

Then there’s always this map, which disturbs me no matter how many times I see it and looks like it should belong to the CDC. Yeah. I think I’ll keep my comforting habit for a little while longer.

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