Robert Greenwald director of “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” and “Uncovered: The War On Iraq” has gone toe-to-toe with one of the biggest corporate monsters of our time in his latest documentary, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.”
Not only a home for low prices, Wal-Mart is also the home of unfair business tactics and disregard for its employees.
For this documentary, Greenwald refrains from using the usual white-collared talking-heads and reaches out to those in the community who have been caught in the middle
of this growing monopoly, as well as current and former employees who believed in company promises.
With every testimonial the plot-line of the film unfurls, triggering moments of anger, sadness and shock at the complete disregard that this company has for people.
Such disregard is depicted when the spotlight is shone on Wal-Mart’s factories overseas and the viewer is introduced to “Princess.”
“Princess” is a young girl from a small province in China who is forced to go into the city to make some money. She finds herself working in a factory assembling toys, working 15 hour shifts for less than $3 a day.
One male Chinese employee speaks out to Wal-Mart honchos and asks them to consider his remarks. “These profits you made and the wonderful life you have are the sweat and tears and the overtime working of Chinese people,” he says.
However, most of the attention is geared to issues festering from store to store in the United States. From lack of health benefits for employees, to racism and sexism, Wal-Mart is a Pandora’s box of concerns.
Edith Arana invested six years of her life in this company. Like every other employee who bought into the Wal-Mart philosophy, she wanted to scale-up the ladder and obtain a position in management. In her testimony she describes the “check-list” she had to fulfill in order to achieve her goal of advancement within the company. Arana was denied the opportunity
due to the fact that she was
a black woman.
For the most part, the majority of the people speaking out against Wal-Mart are conservative folks with strong Christian values, Middle-America’s citizens who are up-in-arms that mom and pop shops are being driven out of business in order to make way for a company that practices unfair business tactics.
Greenwald makes it very clear that Wal-Mart not only affects blue-collar America. In fact, he demonstrates two separate cases within the film of how Wal-Mart affects those who have generated a decent amount of money with their small businesses only to get driven out of business by the unscrupulous monster that is Wal-Mart.
But what is definitely stressed ad naseum throughout the film is the company’s penny-pinching style.
Lack of security in the parking lots of the stores have given leeway to staggering crime rates. Patrons have been subjected to theft, rape and shooting on Wal-Mart property. The store goes to great lengths to monitor the inside of the stores but disregards what occurs in the parking lots. The company has actually been slapped with several law suits pertaining to parking lot safety, suits which the company vehemently denies. The company can afford to spend more for increased security, but it won’t do it.
The film reserves a special segment for the Walton family and CEO of the company, Lee Scott.
At one point during this segment, Greenwald contrasts the allocation of charity between the Walton family and Bill Gates. According to the film, the Walton family donates less than 1 percent of earnings to charity, while Gates forks over a whopping 58 percent.
In 2004, Wal-Mart employees gave more than $5 million to the Critical Need Fund, which will help fellow workers during times of crisis. The Waltons managed to only contribute $6,000, even though they are worth $102 billion.
Facts like these pop out all through the film, shedding some light on the Wal-Mart empire and legitimizing arguments against the company.
Greenwald’s approach to go small and to show deeply personal stories drives a point home. “Wal-Mart impacts people all across the country and all across the world.”
But the documentary only shows one side of the coin, that of the disgruntled communities, and former and current employees. Although it shows footage of Scott, it does not do enough to demonstrate the other side of the spectrum.
Ideally, it would have been a much more interesting film if Greenwald and company had bum-rushed happy Wal-Mart customers as they walked out of the store with their cheap toys and produce and confronted them with hard facts about the company.
Or even better, if Scott or current Wal-Mart heads would have been questioned about their dirty, unfair business tactics as they schemed their way out of another lawsuit.
One way or another, this film will not only stir up a wide range of emotions but it will also awaken the world to the harsh realities of no-holds-barred capitalism.
Rating ** 1/2 out of 4
Join the Women’s International Liberation League for a special screening of “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. in SC212.