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The Heather Mallick Fan Club: Cheap and Convenient come at a cost

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How can anyone in their right mind continue to believe that nothing is wrong in the way we do things in our society is beyond me. And yet, again and again, I talk to people who happily remain in the bubble that is their little self, convinced that nothing is wrong except the lower back pain they developed while shoveling the twenty centimeters of snow that has covered parts Eastern Canada in a chilly blanket (isn’t that an oxymoron).

How can anyone in their right mind admit that nothing is wrong and still not make the effort to search for information is also beyond me – but maybe not as much. After all, there is so much information out there that it can quickly become discouraging trying to sift the right from the wrong from the utterly absurd. Plus the risk of landing on an ‘icky’ site is also always there, which makes me sometimes very wary of treading on an unbeaten path.

But that’s just me.

Which is why I am grateful to have access to various columnist on ‘real’, ‘unicky’ sites such as the CBC who not only report about what is going on in the world, but also take the time to share their point of views. Interestingly enough, the ones that I read the most aren’t those whose opinions I agree with, but rather those who back up their opinions with facts and research, and who aren’t afraid to ask tough questions.

One topic that I am particularly passionate about is that of social justice. And one particular topic related to local social justice that has been knawing at me for the longest time is that of Wal-Mart.

I still don’t feel ready to write anything objective about Wal-Mart, so I am still at the research stage. And every once in awhile, amidst some good articles, I manage to find a couple of great ones.

Here is one of them.

Cheap and Convenient come at a cost, by Heather Mallick

Published on the CBC website on April 28th 2008

Last night I dreamt I went to Wal-Mart again. And I was happy there.

This worried me because the day before, I had gone to a Wal-Mart for the first time in my life, my real life, and I was badly frightened. I was checking out the store — sorry, industrial hangar exoskeleton — because developers want to build a Wal-Mart near my sort of cute, ramshackle, little-shops Toronto neighbourhood and I was there to see my future.

(…)

The fact that Wal-Mart is cheap (“Save money, live better!”) and convenient (18,000 parking spaces! Free!) are two puny words against the torrent of invective I and any other Canadian interested in airy concepts like “quality of life” could instantly pour upon Wal-Mart.

(…)

The price of cheapness

Wal-Mart is a giant American corporation (2006 revenue of $315 billion) run out of Arkansas that devastates every town and neighbourhood in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Britain where it plants a store. I urge you to watch Robert Greenwald’s famed 2005 documentary ‘Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price‘ to understand why cheap and convenient are adjectives of condemnation, not praise.

Yes, Wal-Mart is cheap. CEO Lee Scott’s statement in the 2008 annual report is so obsessive about prices that he sounds like Howard Hughes on germs or Lou Dobbs on Mexicans. Here’s a sampling of his phrases: “affordable, money-saving, price-leading, price-reduced, dollar-saving, budget-stretching, ends-meeting, driving down costs, reducing costs, saving money, spending less, low prices, price-leading, reduce prices, less money, save money, on par with price, lower costs.” That’s not cheap, that’s psychotic.

I love to shop and I do shop carefully. But as I wander around Wal-Mart, it becomes apparent that their prices are low because much of their merchandise is — cheap. Whatever happened to “well-made” or “worthwhile”? Their own-brand clothing, curiously called “George,” is made of thin fabric harsh on my fingertips, badly shaped and sewn, and style-free. Gap and H&M sell cheap clothes too, but they aren’t this badly constructed, and those two chains make an effort at rendering the customer physically appealing to fellow human beings. George clothing actively works in the other direction.

(…)

So instead of walking down to main street for a shovel, nail gun, ice cream, prescriptions, head of lettuce, shrubbery, can of paint or pair of deck shoes, everyone will drive to Wal-Mart and come back with disposable things bought for next to nothing from dingy foreign factories. We will do this at a hidden cost to clean air, precious fuel, neighbours’ basements, owners and employees of smaller stores, wages (Wal-Mart pays rock-bottom and keeps people part-time for years), the view of Lake Ontario, tax revenue, Canadian-owned manufacturers, esthetics and fitness.

Read the rest of this great article here.

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