Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a documentary that, in essence, attempts to shred Wal-Mart's strategy, executives, and mission as being unsafe, unfair, and inhuman. The documentary focuses on a variety of issues starting with how Wal-Mart destroys a town.
It focuses on one family-owned business and a town that had been vibrant and active for years until Wal-Mart came in and crushed the business and, apparently, emptied the town. The owner of the store in question talks about how he and his team needed to focus on service because if you go into the plumbing section in Wal-Mart, no one knows plumbing and that's what will keep the customers coming back.
Apparently not, as the shop closed and the town was deserted shortly after Wal-Mart opened. Additionally lamented is how the government so carelessly subsidizes the growth through tax breaks (which they argue could be used for schools).
It also focuses on Wal-Mart's harsh treatment of its associates. First they show how workers are forced to "eat hours" or work more hours than they are paid. Also, it shows how these same employees simply can't afford to pay for their family's medical bills with Wal-Mart's insurance and Wal-Mart encourages them to use government programs.
Next it looks at how Wal-Mart crushes unionization attempts to improve working conditions. It also covers inhumane working conditions abroad related to Wal-Mart.
The movie covers how Wal-Mart's inattention to security in the parking lots has resulted in crimes perpetrated against their shoppers. In the movie, they come right out and ask how a multi-billion dollar can't pay for golf-cart driving security forces because a study proved that crime went to zero when they did.
Finally, it shows how several communities won battles with Wal-Mart to keep them out. It appears more often than not, it's done by a city council vote.
I thought the movie was mildly interesting and poorly done. I understand this type of movie is a specific point of view. I was indifferent going in and am still indifferent about Wal-Mart.
I compare The High Cost of Low Price to Fahrenheit 9-11, where I was sort of against President Bush and the war previous and staunchly opposed after watching the movie. The difference for me was the way the case was built. In The High Cost of Low Price, there is not enough context for relevant facts that interests me.
For example, the hardware store claimed service is super important. It seems like price is more important and if it is, how different are their prices? Or why not ask a few customers how they felt about the service they got?
As for underpaying the employees and eating their hours, nobody forced them to take the job. And for the families they can't support, nobody forced them to have them. I think it would have been very interesting if they had featured, for example, a family that was impacted by a downtown job lost who was "forced" to choose a Wal-Mart job.
Eating hours (or working hours that you don't get paid for), that happens all the time in public accounting, consulting and law firms, as well as all types of white collar jobs. I understand the economic dynamic is different, but the working assumption is the same. If I don't do it, they'll fire me and find someone who will.
In the case of security, do a simple analysis comparing how Wal-Mart's inattention stacks up against Mall security or downtown security (where I'm sure you couldn't shop until midnight) or gas stations, etc. If they prove to be comparatively negligent, that's far more convincing than just stating the fact.
That's even true for the working conditions abroad as well. I'm sure it's not just Wal-Mart who is to blame for the poor working conditions anyway. Or at least I think it's not. The movie neglects to mention which company's products are being produced in these sweat shops. Are they Wal-Mart private label or another brand?
Confoundingly, the movie fails to give sufficient attention to the politicians who vote the Wal-Marts in, along with their subsidies. Briefly it mentions it when one politician noted if they say no, they will just open up right outside their county lines in a county that would say yes. Even if it were true, why would the council vote yes for a town suicide? Why not go talk to the politicians in the neighboring towns? Why not look at any potential voter backlash from politicians that did sink towns?
The one time the movie effectively uses the context technique of presenting a case it worked beautifully. Wal-Mart has a program where workers contribute to a fund to help other workers who run into trouble. Millions are donated by workers (although they don't really go into who gives what amongst the workers). The Walton heirs, who collectively are worth $100+ Billion, gave $6,000 to the program. That's interesting and worthy of discussion but won't really result in any action. They compare their giving to Bill Gates (remember when everyone said he was the devil?) who had given 58% of his wealth up. So, all I can take away from it is the Waltons are tightwads, so what?
The movie, for me, is another example of why sustainable growth or socially responsible agendas are almost never successfully advanced. They appeal to the humanity of people by pointing out they are inhumane, which at an absolute minimum is judgmental. If the moviemakers simply pointed out their irresponsibility in the context of the organizational world in which Wal-Mart operates that, in itself, is compelling. Ironically, an excellent small example is included in the movie when a "river keeper" goes through the legal morass to eventually make Wal-Mart change its irresponsible behavior. She mentions, in passing, she understands if Wal-Mart pollutes the water that it impacts a mother drawing water for her children. But there's no cheesy music, just a statement of position that's compelling and results in a worthwhile solution.
There are far too few examples in a movie that is not worth watching unless you're interested to see why so-called liberal agendas (and by the way, presidential candidates) fail: because they don't know how to play the game. I understand movies like this are meant to provide a stepping off point for discussion; this movie is confusing and irresponsible because it barely even does that. It certainly did not leave me with any type of conclusion on how I feel about Wal-Mart. Rather it leaves me with the conclusion that the filmmakers are incompetent.