by David Nassar
It’s tax rebate time, and no one is hungrier for the tax rebate checks arriving in mailboxes today than Wal-Mart. The retailer is advertising tax-rebate sales and has offered to cash the checks for free — all in hopes that consumers will spend their newfound money at Wal-Mart stores. But spending your tax rebate at Wal-Mart won’t stimulate the economy — and here’s why:
* Despite bringing in over $378 billion last year, Wal-Mart repeatedly underpays its American workforce. More than 80 wage & hour lawsuits, including a recently certified class action lawsuit in California, are currently pending against the company. Plus, it faces more than 200 discrimination lawsuits for unfair promotion practices, pay discrepancies and other issues, including the nation’s largest workplace gender discrimination lawsuit. By failing to fairly compensate its employees, Wal-Mart cheats states out of income tax revenues.
* Wal-Mart also pays poorly. While the company seeks to benefit from the government’s rebate payout, Wal-Mart’s low wages means store employees have little or no disposable income to spend to stimulate the economy. Think about what even a small raise for Wal-Mart’s 1 million+ workers would mean nationally, or what it would mean to your city or town if everyone at your local Wal-Mart got a raise.
* Wal-Mart sources the vast majority of its products from countries overseas, meaning most of the cost of a given Wal-Mart product doesn’t go into the U.S. economy. Rather than boosting the U.S. economy, Wal-Mart has played a major role in exporting U.S. manufacturing jobs to countries with low labor and environmental standards. Meanwhile, the company has embraced unions in its Chinese stores and has negotiated with them to raise Chinese salaries. Apparently, what is good enough for China is not good enough here at home.
* Wal-Mart underfunds its health care plan and cuts corners whenever possible, forcing many of its employees to postpone care, thus decreasing their productivity and increasing the eventual cost of their treatment. In desperation, many of them rely on state-sponsored care and drain yet more funds from American communities. That means when Wal-Mart employees end up in emergency rooms, it’s U.S. taxpayers who end up footing the bill. If Wal-Mart were truly interested in stimulating the economy, it would begin to adequately fund its health care plan and take care of its own Associates.
* Wal-Mart routinely dodges state and local taxes, meaning money spent at a Wal-Mart store won’t end up in your community. Wal-Mart actively works to challenge property tax assessments and creates complex real estate arrangements to obscure how much taxes the company owes. When Wal-Mart dodges its tax burden, it takes precious revenues away from cities and states to pay for roads, schools and other services. In turn, individual taxpayers are forced to pay more to make up the difference (which takes more money out of their pockets) or get by with less.
With its low price focus, Wal-Mart may appear to help the U.S. economy. But, the reality is that with its poor wages and benefits, massive China sourcing and tax avoidance, Wal-Mart makes its workers and the communities where it operates poorer.
As our nation’s largest employer and most financially-successful company, Wal-Mart is a singular American institution. It occupies a unique position in our world by virtue of its size, reach and responsibility for the livelihoods of millions of workers and the needs of billions of consumers. And with such overwhelming influence comes certain moral responsibilities. It is the acceptance or rejection of those responsibilities that determines greatness.
For the time being, Wal-Mart has rejected those responsibilities and because of that choice, the money spent there does nothing of what it could to strengthen our economy. Higher salaries, quality affordable healthcare and paying what they owe like any good American, are just three things Wal-Mart can do tomorrow that will make them a company worthy of our money.
David Nassar is the Executive Director of Wal-Mart Watch, a joint project of The Center for Community & Corporate Ethics, a 501c3 organization devoted to studying the impact of large corporations on society, and its advocacy arm, Five Stones.