Journalist Charles Fishman Discusses “The Wal-Mart Effect”
At Well-Attended Wittenberg Series Event
Oct. 27, 2006
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – Award-winning journalist Charles Fishman stunned a large crowd at the Arena in Wittenberg’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center on Oct. 25. Fishman told of poor work conditions balanced against overwhelming annual earnings for the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, as he defended the oft-demonized corporation by making some startling comparisons.
The fifth event of the 2006-07 Wittenberg Series, the Fred R. Leventhal Family Endowed Lecture, presented Fishman who discussed “The Wal-Mart Effect,” which highlighted his extensive research for the best-selling book, The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works and How It’s Transforming the American Economy.
Assistant Professor of English D’arcy Fallon introduced Fishman by laying out some of the criticisms of the Bentonville, Ark.- based company. She told of an American ambivalence to Wal-Mart – an attraction to bargains, yet guilt over suspicion about the process by which these “low prices” were achieved.
Wal-Mart is currently the leading grocer in America with 60,000 items in its stores and 120,000 items in its supercenters. The company has branched out internationally, opening stores in England, China and Japan. But many question the impact of Wal-Mart on the American economy, and, increasingly, the global economy.
Penetrating a corporation that eluded public scrutiny for many years, Fishman said the organization has remained “almost completely unexamined,” citing any journalism conducted on Wal-Mart within the last 20 to 30 years as being largely unreliable. This investigative journalist conducted many interviews with Wal-Mart employees for his book and articles and presentations on the subject, most on the condition that they remain anonymous.
Wal-Mart has been publicly accused of heralding the downfall of the traditional “mom and pop” stores, forcing unfair working conditions on its employees, pressuring suppliers and transforming American consumer expectations. Fishman shared a story of a woman in Bangladesh, who worked for the Wal-Mart clothing brand, Faded Glory. She worked 80 hours each week for a paltry wage of 13 cents an hour that did not meet her needs.
“She is so poor she cannot buy a toothbrush,” he said. “She uses ashes from the fireplace and her finger to brush her teeth.”
Wal-Mart is also changing what consumers expect for the price they pay. Brand name products found in Wal-Mart stores are often of inferior quality to the ‘same’ products sold at other establishments. Quality of production and integrity of the materials are sacrificed in making Wal-Mart brands to ensure low prices. Everyone likes a bargain, he said, and consumers are buying into it.
“That’s the charisma Wal-Mart has,” Fishman said.
He stunned the audience with figures regarding Wal-Mart’s hourly intake of $36 million, company growth and employee turnover rates.
“Wal-Mart is eight percent of the retail economy in America,” Fishman said.
Despite the staggering figures, he pointed out that Wal-Mart has sometimes been singled out unfairly. While Wal-Mart makes impressive earnings, it is just a fraction of those reported by Microsoft or Exxon, and although publicly criticized for minimal health plans for employees, Fishman revealed that Wal-Mart competitor Target offers inferior plans.
Fishman put the criticism against Wal-Mart into a new perspective and pointed out that without support from consumers Wal-Mart would not be the corporate giant it is today.
“Mainstream America puts America out of business,” he said and ended with a neutral view of the retail giant. He applauded its affordability to middle and lower income Americans, yet “Wal-Mart’s arrival spells the closing of local businesses,” he said.
The Fred R. Leventhal Family Endowed Lecture is made possible by a gift to Wittenberg from the Springfield, Ohio, family. Every year, the Wittenberg Series brings distinguished lecturers and performing artists of national and international prominence to the campus and local community.
Wittenberg Series events are free and open to the public. For more information about the Series, contact Phyllis Eberts at (937) 327-6114, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
By: Christi Lue ’09
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