By Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño from Washington, DC, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Walmart recently announced its “Work is a Beautiful Thing” campaign in which Walmart commits to buying $250 billion worth of American made products over the next ten years. In support of the campaign, Walmart has made some pretty great ads, my favorite being the “Working Man” ad featuring the song of the same name by the Canadian power trio Rush. Walmart has made commitments to buy products made by members of our extended American family working at lots of American firms, including quite a few I have featured on the blog like 1888 Mills.
But missing from the ads is any mention of Walmart’s role in helping to create the decline of the American manufacturing sector in the first place. In all the ads, the decline in American manufacturing is represented as almost a force of nature, like the movement of tectonic plates. Phrases like “And one day the gears stopped turning”, and “those jobs unfortunately were lost” are sprinkled through the ads. No effort, not surprisingly, is made to explain that lots of American companies, including Walmart, made conscious decisions that guaranteed that those jobs would be lost by offshoring the production of consumer goods to countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China. And that seems to me a trifle disingenuous.
The Walton family that owns Walmart decided to sell foreign-made towels, bikes, shirts, shoes and virtually everything else because it thought it could make lots of money doing so. And it worked. Walmart is truly a corporate behemoth. The company is the world’s largest retailer, the world’s second largest public corporation and employs more employees than any other private employer in the world. Walmart is a family owned business controlled by the Walton family, who own over 50 percent of Walmart. The four members of the Walton family are each worth upwards of $25 billion, and they don’t have to worry much about that number going down anytime soon. Walmart focused on selling low-priced products to Americans, and if those low-priced goods being sold to Americans weren’t being made by Americans, so be it.
So I am somewhat conflicted. I am glad that members of our extended American family will be working since Walmart will be selling the products they make in Walmart stores. But I find it sort of nauseating for Walmart to portray itself as some sort of hero for rescuing American manufacturing from a fate that Walmart itself had a hand in creating in the first place through its earlier decision to almost exclusively sell foreign-made consumer goods at its stores. “Well yes I did set the building on fire. But I should get the credit for putting the fire out since I went and got my hose!” Perhaps the most galling Walmart ad in this campaign is the “Work is a Beautiful Thing: Walmart is Investing in American Jobs” ad. In it they extol the logic of selling American made goods in their stores. Too bad the Walton family didn’t come to this conclusion a little earlier. But hey, you can’t create four multi-billionaires without breaking some eggs. Luckily for the Waltons, the eggs that got broken didn’t happen to be their eggs.