. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . where ImagInatIon comes to play

Wednesday 16 July 2008

The 'Other' Big W . . .

In 2003, a group of concerned Canadians successfully campaigned to get “The Corporation” into mainstream movie houses. We did this because it was our belief that everyone was in need of a better understanding of what it meant to be incorporated. Viewed as a person under the law, a corporation is a person with a dangerous amount of power and a lack of conscience, and the film aimed at spreading a bit of social consciousness into every consumer’s home.

Walmart is the world’s largest public corporation. Despite this, it still receives government subsidies and tax cuts at the expense of taxpayers, like those they employ. Its employees live well below the poverty line and the Big W is regularly criticized for its inadequate health insurance options and its sexist practices. And it clearly fails to house or feed its workers in China who make many of the products it sells. So how can it be that this employer organizes charities in its name with the clear expectation that their underpaid staff will do the fundraising for them? Isn’t it enough that they are subjected to singing the Walmart song? I digress, perhaps.

Since 2003, Walmart has made improvements towards its environmental responsibilities and they have made some attempt at sustainability as a corporate entity. It is also true that there has been some improvement in employee relations. But this would seem only to be a defensive reaction to the too many class-action lawsuits and to organizations like ‘Walmart Watch’. It scares me to wonder just how much stronger and more invasive a corporation they would be today if it wasn’t for the many concerned citizens keeping an eye on this super power.

Flourishing in its attempts to wipe out small business and townships across North America, there are those towns that have successfully kept this monster out of their streets, though not without a fight. It takes a great deal of energy to be socially responsible and there are still so many people who don’t get the big picture.

Imagine my reaction when I received a bridal shower invitation several weeks ago for a young woman who lives in Small Town, Manitoba (along with most of my extended family members) who had registered at Walmart(!). I was shocked. Yes, yes, I know that some people (100 million/day) do actually shop there, but I had never before been confronted with this predicament. It felt like I was being invited to celebrate at the McDonald's inside a neighbourhood Walmart. Surely, they know that Walmart is against my religion, non? Surely, everyone is aware that to expect a person to shop at Walmart is in the very least a social faux-pas?

Well, it was made pretty clear that my absence was deemed silly. The irony is that my refusal to walk into a Walmart is in large part out of respect for those I know and love, whose livelihood depends solely on the small towns they inhabit. In other words, I didn't attend this bride's shower because I care about her future. It would seem that having a social conscience can be a lonely business . . .

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