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Monday, December 18, 2006

So What's the Big Deal?

December 18, 2006

"A National Pattern of Disregard"
So What's the Big Deal, If Wal-Mart Makes a Mistake?

That was the question asked by the host on a recent Public Radio
call-in show. Her question to her guest from the Cornucopia Institute
was in regard to recent charges that Wal-Mart was passing conventional
grocery items off as USDA certified organic.

A mistake? I doubt it. Seriously, think about it, you start a big push
in marketing a new line of high profit products and one of the first
things you do is mislabel your products, "accidentally"? As Jim
Hightower would say "Do they think we were born with sucker wrappers
around our heads?"

Ever since Wal-Mart announced earlier this year that they planned to
greatly increase their organic offerings at a cost of only ten percent
more than their conventional foods, those of us who grow organic food
have been skeptical.

Now it appears our skepticism was well placed. I personally felt the
worst we might expect would be imports of cheap "organic" food from
China, but hey, why not go for the gold, just sell conventional food as

There was much excitement about Wal-Mart expanding their organic sales
and how it would do so much to help organic farmers, huh? did Wal-Marts
entrance into the conventional grocery business help conventional
farmers, did their profits go up? Hardly, but it did put lots of small
grocery stores out of business and certainly added more black ink to
Wal-Marts multi-billion dollar bottom line.

In its short history as an organic retailer Wal-Mart is already under
scrutiny for sourcing its organic milk from a factory scale dairy that
is under investigation by the USDA for failing to comply with federal
organic regulations. It would also appear that they have no qualms
about selling organic produce from China as long as it's cheaper and
more profitable than sourcing from the U.S, but then Wal-Mart is an old
hand at offshore sourcing, just ask the U.S textile industry they
helped ruin.

I wonder if a Wal-Mart mistake was the reason 1.6 million women have
joined in a civil rights lawsuit against Wal-Mart? This action, now the
largest class-action lawsuit in history charges Wal-Mart with sex
discrimination in pay and promotions.

When an Oregon jury found Wal-Mart guilty of systematically forcing
workers to work overtime without pay, the evidence obviously pointed to
more than just a "mistake" on the part of Wal-Mart.

On ten separate occasions the National Labor Relations Board has ruled
that Wal-Mart broke the law when it fired union supporters. A mistake,
or are they just slow learners?

"A pattern of national disregard by Wal-Mart" was how Connecticut
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal described the company's adherence
to environmental protection laws. More mistakes, or just their way of
doing business?

In Wal-Marts tightly structured business model everything is controlled
down to the temperature and in-store music) from the head office in
Bentonville Arkansas. The home office knows exactly whats going on in
the stores and they certainly didn't become the worlds largest retailer
by making mistakes.

Everyday Low Prices, the Wal-Mart slogan, wins the hearts of many
because "poor people can afford to shop there". Those low prices are
kept low by the exploitation of international sweatshop laborers,
driving competitors out of business and paying their associates wages
so low they must turn to Medicaid for health insurance and often buy
their cloths at Goodwill.

Wal-Mart does have a history, a history of low wages, union busting,
sweatshop exploitation, discrimination and doing whatever it takes to
make a profit. So what's a little mislabeling? Like many of their
business practices, a big mistake, but their most consistent mistake is
thinking they can get away with it.

A caller to that same radio program asked the guest why he was picking
on Wal-Mart. While the guest correctly focused on examples of Wal-Marts
unethical and illegal behavior, in particular their flouting of organic
standards, my answer would have been shorter, we're not picking on
them, they're picking on us.

JIM GOODMAN is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc Wisconsin