Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a great tool to get people who shop at the multi-billion dollar juggernaut retailer to think twice before doing so. Wal-Mart… is a meticulously put together documentary that shows how shopping in these box stores not only harms the communities where they are located, but the world in general. The documentary weaves together several interviews with small business owners who talk of lost revenue that forces many shops to shut down, due to an inability to compete. Communities then lose their identities from the loss of these local retailers, acquiring homogeneity by submitting to a corporate cookie-cutter business model. Community infrastructure workers are forced to fire employees, then testify that because of massive municipal subsidies and tax breaks granted to Wal-Mart there is not enough money to fund public services.
This documentary also reveals how many Wal-Mart “associates” must rely on government assistance to make ends meet because they are underpaid and don’t receive benefits because they’ve been denied full-time status. Added to that are accusations of discriminatory practices against women who are denied management positions, despite qualifications, and an aggressive anti-union policy that ensures workers cannot stand up for their rights. Direct links are also made between the company’s low prices and exploited workers in China, Bangladesh and Mexico, as well as local producers who contend with the retailer pressuring for slimmer profit margins. The issues mentioned are the tip of the iceberg, and Greenwald supports his claims with thorough research, clearly showing the cause-and-effect of the Wal-Mart style of business. Particularly effective is the director depicting and soundly refuting the claims of the Wal-Mart public relations machine, point by point. Perhaps the film’s only shortcoming is that the director places the blame of business practices squarely on Wal-Mart when at least a little responsibility belongs to the consumers, who sustain these exploitive practices. Greenwald partially addresses this when showing communities that successfully lobbied to stop Wal-Mart from setting up shop in their midst. But these efforts only go so far: Wal-Mart remains the most profitable retailer in North America. (I. Khider)
Dir. Robert Greenwald, DVD, $12.95, www.walmartmovie.com