1 Always low prices. Always. This is the slogan of the world’s largest corporation, a U.S.-based retailer whose big-box stores offer a one-stop shop, from groceries to garments to garden hoses. The secret of Walmart’s success is to give consumers the lowest prices-14 percent lower than its competitors (Greenhouse, 2003)-by increasing the efficiency of the supply chain, the productivity of the labour force, and the use of labour saving technology. Competitors must adopt a similar business plan, offer something Walmart does not, or go out of business-as Woolco, Eaton’s, Simp sons, and Woodwards have in Canada (Moore & Pareek, 2004).
The influence of the Walmart model is not likely to wane in the near future. With over 235 stores in Canada and plans for rapid expansion, Walmart and its effects on labour are worth considering. Are its offers of jobs, its attitude toward unionization, and its influence on industry labour practices worth the low price on the shelf?
2 One of the most frequent complaints about Walmart, which employs 1.
4 million people worldwide, is its failure to pay workers a living wage. Store employees are paid 20-30 percent less than the industry average, making many of them eligible for social assistance. It is estimated that American taxpayers fork out $2.5 billion a year in welfare payments to Walmart employees (Head, 2004). Because the retailer hires hard-to-place workers, like recent immigrants, seniors, and single mothers, its employees are often afraid they will not find work elsewhere. The kind of work Walmart does offer is gruelling: stores are intentionally understaffed-the strategy behind the company’s legendary productivity gains-so that existing employees will work harder (Head, 2004). It is alleged that systemic discrimination against women within the corporation has denied the majority of Walmart workers the chance at promotion, a charge that is now the subject of the largest civil-rights suit in U.S. history.