Friday, June 30, 2006

Cops: Shoplifter tried to bite store security

06/29/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom
Cops: Shoplifter tried to bite store security

BOONTON -- A 32-year-old New York man was charged with shoplifting and assault on Tuesday afternoon after he allegedly swapped a price tag from a television at Wal-Mart, and tried to bite security officers who attempted to stop him.

Wal-Mart security told police they observed Richard Cabrera, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., allegedly take a 32-inch TV priced at $1,395, remove the price tag, and replace it with one marked $70. When Cabrera was stopped and taken to the security office, he resisted and tried to bite both security officers, police said.

Cabrera was lodged in the Morris County jail in default of $25,000 bail.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Editorial Board: Wal-Mart is unethical

Editorial Board: Wal-Mart is unethical
By Malinda Osborne (Contact)
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Watching the protracted battle between the city and Wal-Mart was like witnessing David take on Goliath, but this time Goliath got his way.

The unfortunate reality is that while the city fought hard, it wasn’t enough. The city was armed with little more than a claim that Wal-Mart was a department store, not a variety store, and therefore did not fit the zoning laws for the site at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Wal-Mart, the largest owner and manager of retail space in the country, had inexhaustible funds to use for legal battles and a precedent of building whenever and wherever it pleased.

After thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent by the city to stave off the corporation’s seven law suits, the city had no choice but to reach a settlement with Wal-Mart. No one knows the exact amount, but by the end of 2003, the city already had spent $35,000. In the end, an agreement was made stating that in the next six months plans for a smaller-scale, aesthetically-pleasing store will be submitted and, upon approval, the law suits will be dismissed and a court trial avoided.

And what has anyone gained from the whole experience? Having the ability to drive to the store five minutes faster for a $3 gallon of pickles. Those who argue in favor of the store say competition is the basis of capitalism and that Wal-Mart simply has a successful business model. But this argument neglects issues such as ethical business practices.

We may not personally know the employees of Wal-Mart’s suppliers who get laid off because the company can’t handle the prices they are forced to sell their goods. We may not hear about the Wal-Mart employees who can’t afford a doctor’s visit because they don’t receive health care. But it does happen all the time. So the next time you buy that cheap pack of Oreos from Wal-Mart, ask yourself, is it really worth it?

As the city knows, it’s not easy to do what’s right, but it’s worth fighting for.

Push Is on for Higher Wal-Mart Wages

Jun 21, 6:20 PM EDT
Push Is on for Higher Wal-Mart Wages
AP Business Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- Opponents of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s expansion into inner cities are scoring early success with a new tactic, enlisting support for a proposed local ordinance requiring giant retailers to significantly raise the minimum wage and help pay for health benefits.

Advocates of the so-called living wage or big-box ordinance, which advanced to a vote by the Chicago City Council next week after being passed by its finance committee Wednesday, say its approval would set the stage for similar actions in other U.S. cities.

"These proposals are really about whether it's reasonable to ask some of the largest and most successful companies in the country to balance growth and profits with paying a living wage," said Paul Sonn, deputy director of the poverty program at the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, who helped draft the ordinance.

Retailers, however, argue such ordinances would cause them to locate new stores elsewhere and force layoffs at existing outlets in the affected areas.

The Chicago initiative, mirroring one under consideration by the Washington, D.C., city council, comes with Wal-Mart preparing to open its first local store on the West Side in September after winning a heated zoning battle.

The ordinance would require operators of large stores in the city to pay their workers at least $10 an hour in wages plus another $3 in fringe benefits. That's significantly above Illinois' minimum wage of $6.50 and roughly double the federal minimum wage of $5.15.

If enacted, it would be one of the nation's first industry wage laws, following one adopted last November for large hotels in Emeryville, Calif., on San Francisco Bay. Supporters say it would raise pay for tens of thousands of local residents working for employers such as Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and Staples Inc.

"I believe it is an important step that we've taken to speak on behalf of the working people, not only of our area but generally of the United States," said Chicago Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle, a co-sponsor of the proposed ordinance, following the 15-6 vote by the finance committee.

"We're basically saying that labor has a right to be paid a wage which allows them to not just live but to sustain themselves and improve themselves," she said.

Madeline Talbott of the grass-roots community group Chicago ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, says that once the ordinance passes, "Wal-Mart is welcome to move in."

"It's a way to allow big-box retailers like Wal-Mart to come in without threatening the level of wages and benefits that unionized stores and stores with a conscience are already paying," she said. "We believe lots of cities will pass something similar nationally."

Wal-Mart and other retailers opposed to the measure contend it is unconstitutional, suggesting a challenge is likely if it is approved.

Labor and employment law expert Jim Hendricks said the ordinance would be unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny as a "blue law," or one that singles out specific types of businesses.

"You can't say you're just going to do it for some employers," said Hendricks, based in Chicago for the firm Fisher and Phillips. "I'm sure it's going to get challenged if they're foolish enough to pass it."

Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio said the legislation is backed by special interests who are spreading disinformation about retailers. He said Wal-Mart employees in the Chicago area average $10.99 per hour, with only a relative handful making its starting wage of $7.25.

The action, he said, also would be economically harmful to communities and local residents.

"Why would any business want to invest in a marketplace where it is subject to a minimum wage that is effectively $13 an hour and meanwhile every other business, including the city itself, doesn't have to abide by that and is given a free pass?" he said. "That just doesn't make sense and probably is outright unconstitutional."

David Vite, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said 17 other companies besides Wal-Mart would be affected by the Chicago ordinance. One, he said, told him it would cut 14 percent of its staff if the ordinance passes. He called it "the absolute killer ordinance to economic development in the city of Chicago, particularly in the neighborhoods."

The ordinance's backers dispute that argument and maintain that big-box retailers still will open stores in inner cities regardless because rural and suburban areas are saturated.


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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Why Google Is Like Wal-Mart

Why Google Is Like Wal-Mart
By Adam L. Penenberg Also by this reporter
02:00 AM Apr, 21, 2005

Why Google Is Like Wal-Mart One is an internet search powerhouse, the other a massive retailer. They have more in common than you might think.

Commentary by Adam L. Penenberg.

On one hand, you have a company that rose up from modest beginnings to become one of the richest businesses in America (indeed, the world), and in the process revolutionized the use of technology to create a new way to do business -- helping people find what they want.

And then you have Google.

It turns out that Wal-Mart, the world's most profitable retailer, and Google, the virtual world's most profitable search seller, have a lot more in common than you might think.


• Wal-Mart: Sam Walton (1918 - 1992), who personified "middle America."

• Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who personify geek America.

Company slogan:

• Wal-Mart: "Always low prices!"

• Google: "Don't be evil."

Alternative slogan:

• Wal-Mart: "Always low wages."

• Google: "Maybe not evil, but after the IPO not so good either."

Market cap:

• Wal-Mart: $202 billion (not bad for a company that peddles cheap goods imported from China).

• Google: $55 billion (not bad for a company that doesn't actually make anything).


• Wal-Mart: Accounts for almost 9 percent of all retail sales in the United States.

• Google: Accounts for almost four out of five internet searches (which includes sites that license Google's search technology), and 75 percent of all referrals to websites.

Secrets to success:

• Wal-Mart: Revolutionized the retail industry by offering a wider variety of products (at lower prices) than competitors in a clean, customer-friendly environment.

• Google: Revolutionized the search engine industry by offering faster, more useful searches (for free) than competitors on a clean, user-friendly website.

Key moment in company's history:

• Wal-Mart: 1988, when it opened up its first Supercenter in Washington, Missouri, thereby giving new meaning to the term "one-stop shopping."

• Google: 2000, when, following Yahoo's lead, it began selling advertisements based on keywords, giving new emphasis to the term "relevancy."

In-house technology:

• Wal-Mart: Developed information technology (it operates the nation's largest private satellite communication system) and perfected the use of the bar code to speed up the supply chain so that both Wal-Mart and the vendor know exactly how many blenders, brooms and baseball gloves they have sold, and how many need to be delivered to specific stores.

• Google: Developed algorithms to rank web pages by link popularity so that searches are not only fast, but also yield the most useful results.

Company jargon:

• Wal-Mart: Refers to workers as "associates" and managers as "servant leaders."

• Google: Refers to AdSense users as "affiliates" and discourages individual employees from communicating with outsiders, preferring all correspondence come from Google "team" members.

Company maxims:

• Wal-Mart: Sam Walton compiled a list of 10 items that form the company's core philosophy, including, "Exceed your customers' expectations," "Commit to your business," "Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners," "Control your expenses better than your competition" and "Swim upstream."

• Google: Brin and Page compiled a list of 10 items that form the company's core philosophy, which include, "Focus on the user and all else will follow," "You can make money without doing evil," "The need for information crosses all borders," "You can be serious without wearing a suit" and "Great just isn't good enough."

Worker salaries:

• Wal-Mart: Pays about 20 percent less than competing retailers, with many employees earning minimum wage and ineligible for health benefits.

• Google: Pays less than other Silicon Valley tech companies. A system administrator earns around $35,000, which in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its astronomical housing prices and cost of living, might as well be minimum wage.


• Wal-Mart: Unions; community organizers dead set against Wal-Mart setting up shop in their towns; government investigators looking into the use of illegal immigrants at below minimum wage, the practice of locking employees inside stores past store hours, and shaving labor costs by forcing workers to work off the clock; the media.

• Google: Privacy experts, who are spooked by the company's long-lasting cookie (which will expire in the year 2038 and can track a user's search terms) and by Gmail, which scans e-mail to target ads based on messages' content; unethical search engine optimization companies, which constantly find ways to rig search results; the media.

Biggest threat:

• Wal-Mart: Falling dollar and rising yuan, which could make Chinese imports more expensive and potentially shave profit margins.

• Google: Click fraud, which would undermine advertisers' faith in Google's ad programs and force the company to refund millions of dollars, which could potentially shave profit margins.

Quote the company most regrets:

• Wal-Mart: "I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment." -- Sam Walton

• Google: "Evil is whatever Sergey says is evil." -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Runner-up: "We are moving to a Google that knows more about you." -- Schmidt

Allegations of censorship:

• Wal-Mart: Won't stock magazines with racy material (Maxim, FHM and Stuff) and partially conceals the covers of certain women's magazines; won't carry music albums with explicit or profane lyrics, or albums that contain lyrics critical of Wal-Mart. (One famous example: In 1996, Wal-Mart refused to sell a Sheryl Crow CD containing lyrics that heaped scorn on the company for selling guns.)

• Google: Blocks users in Germany, France and Switzerland from accessing sites that contain potentially racist content or hate speech. Amended terms and conditions to bar criticism of the company's AdSense service terms and conditions. Allows advertising for beer and wine but not for hard liquor, and won't accept ads for guns. Amended AdSense policy so that affiliates are barred from criticizing Google on their sites.

- - -

Adam L. Penenberg is an assistant professor at New York University and the assistant director of the business and economic reporting program in the school's department of journalism.


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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Wal-Mart could hike pay and keep prices low: study

Wal-Mart could hike pay and keep prices low: study
By Emily Kaiser
Thu Jun 15, 3:09 PM ET

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. could significantly increase employee wages and benefits without raising prices, and still earn a healthy -- albeit smaller -- profit, research released on Thursday concluded.

The Economic Policy Institute study comes as the world's biggest retailer faces a barrage of criticism from labor unions, politicians and community activists, who say it pays poverty-level wages and drives competitors out of business.

Wal-Mart, which has taken steps to improve its health care and other benefits, argues that its low prices boost consumers' buying power and increase their standard of living. The retailer regularly cites a Global Insight study that found Wal-Mart saves U.S. families more than $2,000 per year.

"The more important question for the future isn't whether Wal-Mart is a force for good or evil in the American economy, but whether the economic benefits provided by Wal-Mart can be preserved even if their labor compensation is dramatically improved," economists Jared Bernstein and Josh Bivens wrote.

They concluded that if Wal-Mart reduced its profit margin to about 2.9 percent, where it stood in 1997, from the 3.6 percent margin it recorded last year, that would free up some $2.3 billion to pay workers without raising prices. That works out to just under $2,100 per non-managerial employee, the researchers calculated.

They noted that rival Costco Wholesale Corp. posted a profit margin of about 2 percent in 2005. The study did not mention Target Corp. , Wal-Mart's biggest competitor in the discount sector, which reported a 4.7 percent profit margin for last year.

In a telephone interview, Bivens said his research was aimed at refuting "outsized" claims that Wal-Mart saved consumers hundreds of billions of dollars and that its margins were so thin that it simply could not afford to pay employees more without forcing low-income consumers to foot the bill.

"I always thought that they had really, really tight profit margins," he said. "They're really a microcosm of the U.S. economy. They are very, very good at generating income, but it needs to be spread out more equitably."

His research refuted many of the findings from the Global Insight study released last year regarding how much money Wal-Mart saved consumers.

Jim Dorsey, a spokesman for Global Insight, said the research firm stood by the accuracy and methodology of its study, which was independently reviewed.

"Our study produced estimates of Wal-Mart's impact on prices and consumer savings that make common sense and are consistent with the findings of other rigorous, peer-reviewed studies on the subject," he said.

"In its criticism of Global Insight's findings, the Economic Policy Institute's paper does not properly account for the indirect impact of Wal-Mart on prices."

Wal-Mart said that its stores were good for U.S. working families, and noted that they created tens of thousands of jobs last year, many of them in underserved neighborhoods.

The retailer also criticized the Economic Policy Institute as "funded by big labor."

"We will treat the findings of this study with the same amount of skepticism as other statements made by labor leaders who oppose us," Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Thornton said. "We are proud of the economic impact we have on communities -- from the job opportunities we provide, to the money we save working families, to the tax revenue we generate, to the contribution we make to local charitable organizations," he added.

Thornton said Wal-Mart's average full-time wage is $10.11 per hour, and the retailer does market analysis to ensure its wages are competitive. He noted that Wal-Mart offers 18 different health care plans that cost as little as $11 per month in some areas.

Bivens and Bernstein concluded: "Wal-Mart does a lot right. It has expanded productivity by being more efficient and leaner than many other companies. Many of the benefits shoppers accrue from Wal-Mart's expansion could be preserved even if the retailer had to meet the expectations of its critics regarding fair worker compensation."

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mother leaves baby in car while shopping at Wal-Mart

Mother leaves baby in car while shopping at Wal-Mart
written by: Jeffrey Wolf Web Producer

Created: 6/14/2006 3:48 PM MST - Updated: 6/14/2006 8:00 PM MST

AURORA - The mother of a 3-month-old is facing child abuse charges after police say she left her son in her car while she shopped at a Wal-Mart Wednesday.

It happened in Aurora, where temperatures reached the mid 90s by noon. The high in Denver hit a record of 100 degrees.

Aurora Police say the 3-month-old boy was still in his car seat in a white pick-up truck with tinted windows. The boy's mother had left the windows cracked a little bit while she went to go shopping.

A person in the parking lot heard the boy crying and called police. Police say they were just about to break into the car when the mother came out of the store.

The child was unharmed.

Arapahoe County Social Services told police to return the baby to his mother.

Social services would not comment specifically on the case to 9NEWS but did say they will conduct their own investigation into whether the mother is fit to care for the baby.

The mother was charged with misdemeanor child abuse. It carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

(Copyright by KUSA-TV, All Rights Reserved)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Meet Moses of the Anti-Wal-Mart Movement

Bill Katovsky: Meet Moses of the Anti-Wal-Mart Movement:
Al Norman, a.k.a. "Mr. Sprawl-Busters" Bill Katovsky
Wed May 31, 5:45 AM ET

Small-town America is turning against America's largest retailer. Two weeks ago, the tiny California community of Hercules, which is located 25 miles northeast of San Francisco*, rejected Wal-Mart's bid to open a 100,000-square-foot store on specially zoned land.

Hercules, despite its name, has become yet another David in the localized battle against the commercial Goliath. Following the release of several anti-Wal-Mart film documentaries and books, concerned citizens are better educated that bigger is not necessarily better in their own backyard.

While Wal-Mart started out as a red-state retailer by adhering to founder Sam Walton's strategic vision of putting "good-sized discount stores into little one-horse towns which everybody else was ignoring," the chain now sees green in the more densely populated blue states. In California alone, it plans to build forty more Supercenters over the next four years. That pace represents nearly one new Supercenter going up each month.

Close to 7.5 cents of every retail dollar spent in this country is funneled into Wal-Mart's coffers. Its revenues constitute 2.5 percent of America's GNP. The retail chain helps drive the U.S. economy. In fact, Wal-Mart used to promote "Buy American!" in its advertising and sales promotions before switching over to "Always Low Prices." Then again, eighty percent of Wal-Mart's 6,000 suppliers and factories are located in China.

Despite Wal-Mart's reputation as a bellwether for national consumer-spending habits, it's also become an ever-increasing target of litigation, protests, and controversy. It's been a defendant in a number of class-action lawsuits, ranging from sexual discrimination to mistreatment of its underpaid, largely unskilled workforce.

Because Wal-Mart can't always shake off the negative publicity as the big-box bully from Bentonville, Arkansas, it recently hopped on the organic and eco-bandwagon. Cynics say this is just good business, and not at all reflective of a benevolent social conscience of a company which owns 5,350 stores worldwide.

On the political front, Wal-Mart gives more money to Republican candidates than any other company. According to Bloomberg News, "Wal-Mart's political action committee, the biggest company PAC, gave Republicans 81 percent of its $1.3 million in donations in the past two years."

"Quarantine Wal-Mart"

On June 2, Wal-Mart will come up against another foe. On this day, a National Day of Action called "Quarantine Wal-Mart" will be held at the same time that the CEO of Wal-Mart, Lee Scott, is convening the company's annual shareholders meeting.

The organizers behind this grass-roots rebellion are Jobs With Justice and the Ruckus Society. According to the press release, "thousands of concerned citizens from the Bureau of Worker Health, dressed in hazmat suits, and armed with yellow caution tape, will be putting Wal-Mart locations across the country under quarantine."

The goal of this coordinated demonstration -- 25 locations have been chosen -- is to call public attention to the fact that "a majority of Wal-Mart employees have no healthcare while the healthcare options that Wal-Mart does provide are inadequate and full of hidden costs." Additional violations listed on the website are "poverty wages, devastation of local economies, union-busting, global exploitaton, and unshared profits."

Moses of the Anti-Wal-Mart Movement

The consumer backlash against big-box stores is a relatively new phenomenon.

The trend actually began with one man in the early '90s. Al Norman is the visionary patriarch of the anti-Wal-Mart movement.

In 1993, Wal-Mart wanted to open a new store in his hometown -- Greenfield, Massachusetts, which is a down-on-its-luck former tool-and-die factory town in the western part of the state. At first, Norman's reaction was, "Why? Who cares? It's just a place to get cheap underwear." But with his background in state and local politics as a media strategist, he decided to put his electoral savvy to use by spearheading a Greenfield zoning ballot initiative. And despite by being outspent by a factor of six, they shot down Wal-Mart. The press loved the story of the victorious underdog. It was one of the first times that a community successfully challenged Wal-Mart.

To this day, Greenfield is without a Wal-Mart. Norman plans to keep it that way.

He works out of his home in Greenfield, where he coordinates local opposition against Wal-Mart and other huge retail chains like Home Depot. His one-man lobbying enterprise goes by the name of Sprawl-Busters, and his website is an excellent online library; you can read about the nearly 300 communities which have stood up to the big chains. He is the author of Slam Dunking Wal-Mart! and The Case Against Wal-Mart. Forbes called him "Wal-Mart's #1 enemy.

I had interviewed Norman for my new book, Patriots Act: Voices of Dissent and the Risk of Speaking Out. Regrettably, my publisher, Lyons Press, yanked Norman's chapter only one week before the book was shipped off to the printer. Lyons wanted to stay on Wal-Mart's good side, because it publishes a wide range of books that it wanted the chain to carry. The publisher didn't want to risk a boycott of all its titles.

In many ways, I felt stung by the irony here. The author of an oral history about freedom of expression getting censored by his own publisher? But, at that late date, I meekly went along with the publisher's decision because I still wanted my book to get printed. By the way, Lyons Press's concern might have had legitimate merit. For example, Wal-Mart won't stock the national bestseller, Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book).

Speaking Out: The Lifeblood of Democracy

Here then, on the Huffington Post, are excerpts from the missing Al Norman chapter that had originally appeared in Patriots Act.

But first, I would like to address something critical about our political system. One should never underestimate the power of a single individual exercising his or her right to dissent in a democracy, even when that voice emerges from the most unlikely corner.

If you consider some of the voices in this country which are making a difference by constructively changing the tenor of the national debate, they're not coming from gutless politicians or the complacent mainstream media. It's coming from average Americans like Al Norman, music student Jean Rohe, who confronted Senator John McCain at the New School graduation ceremony during her commencement address, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, or Marine Reserve Major Paul Hackett who returned from Iraq and decided to run for Congress as an anti-Bush fighting Democrat ("I called the president a sonofabitch," Hackett told me in his interview for Patriots Act, "and the media just went nuts. But I was willing to put my life on the line for him. And that's as good as it gets." )

These ordinary Americans are extraordinary examples of democracy in action, liberated from the money-sucking gravitational pull of special-interest politics. Our country is fortunate to have determined citizens like Al, Jean, Cindy, and Paul who emerge from anonymity and become catalysts for social, economic, and political change.

Their speaking out is a wake-up call. It's like a national alarm clock going off, dislodging us from our own political slumber. They are role models for others to follow. What is unleashed is a chain reaction of participatory democracy -- healthy, vital, and nourishing for the soul of our country.

Now, the interview...

Al Norman aka "Mr. Sprawl-Busters"

"We won that Greenfield vote in '93 by a very narrow margin. There were two ballot questions: we won one by about nine votes; for the second ballot question we won by about sixty votes. Wal-Mart put $35,000 into the fight. We raised about $6,000. Our ballot measure was unusual. In most communities, Wal-Mart would roll right in. There wouldn't be any opposition. So number one, it was a little unusual to have a small town fighting them. Number two, it was unusual to have a ballot question. Usually it's a zoning-board vote.

"At the time, there were only a handful of Wal-Marts in Massachusetts. In fact, we had to do research to find out who they were. The West Coast and East Coast were the last to be colonized by Wal-Mart. So we really didn't have much information about them. There was one Wal-Mart about twenty miles north of us in New Hampshire. I went up there just to do a little reconnaissance, to walk around the store. It was funny because I assumed they would be watching me like a hawk, knowing I was opposing them in a town twenty miles to the south. But of course, that was ridiculous. They wouldn't have known who I was and they probably couldn't have cared less. I bought a bag of popcorn, which is the only thing I've ever bought at a Wal-Mart, but the female cashier couldn't make correct change for me because her cash register was locked and she couldn't get access to it as a worker. Wal-Mart was afraid that workers would rip them off. She couldn't break my five. I found myself waiting for this woman to get permission to open up her cash register. I'm standing there with a five dollar bill and a bag of popcorn wanting to leave. Finally I just said, 'You take the popcorn. I'm leaving.'

"After we had this victory in Greenfield. my phone started ringing. Our victory was carried in The New York Times. I had a friend in Bangladesh who heard about it on CNN. It went around the world. People heard about this little town in New England that beat Wal-Mart. It was a national news story. Reporters wanted to know, 'How did you beat them? What did you do?'

"Since so many people were contacting me and asking me for advice and recommendations, I started publishing a newsletter called 'The Sprawl-Busters Alert.' This was '94, '95. I started meeting with people from various groups, like the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Commercial Workers Organizations contacted me. By 1997, my website was up and running, and it became just an amazing tool both for importing and exporting information. I was able to search for articles on the Internet about Wal-Mart and Home Depot battles that otherwise I would never have learned about.

"I've been funding Sprawl-Busters myself. My day job is executive director of Mass Home Care, a network of thirty non-profit groups that help keep older people and the disabled living at home in the least restrictive environment. I've been their lobbyist and public policy person for the past twenty years. I just approached Sprawl-Busters as something I didn't want to think of as a job. I didn't want to structure it as a corporation. I just wanted it to be a grass-roots network that had an organic light to it and was not really bound up in conventional forms of doing business. Oh, when I travel, I don't pay out of my own pocket. If I go to Miami to battle Home Depot, I use the fee to pay for the cost of my overhead -- which is not great because this is a small operation.

"I generally speak with three different communities a day. The intensity has picked up in the last couple years. If I go to my e-mail in the evening I will probably get about five to six e-mail inquiries. Some of them might be duplicates from earlier towns. But there is usually one new community contacting me every evening."

Talking to the Wal

"A friend of mine made a film about two towns: Greenfield and Orange, Massachusetts, which has a Wal-Mart in the area. I helped him write it. It's called Talking to the Wal. It dealt with our Greenfield battle. The film covers a ten-year period. It shows Greenfield's experience and it then goes to Orange, which is 120 miles to the east. It shows jewelry and hardware stores which just went out of business, not just because Wal-Mart put them out of business but because there was no critical mass of business left in the downtown any more.

"One of the reasons downtowns have worked traditionally is that they were a cluster of businesses. You had the grocery store and the hardware store and the jewelry store and the gift store. And they all created some synergy with each other. They brought traffic downtown and people would travel from store to store. But this hardware store guy in Orange, for example, said, 'I looked out on the street and there were no other businesses to help me survive so I shut down.' He was willing to stay until the bitter end. But he had no customers left because there were no other collateral stores around.

"Interestingly, there are people in Greenfield who still want a Wal-Mart. Because in a low-income area, you're going to have plenty of people who feel like they have no option but to shop at Wal-Mart. In the late '90s, regional discount chains started to die off in New England because Wal-Mart shoppers put them under.

"The free market depends on a diversity of players of relatively equal power. We've always had to be on the lookout for large conglomerates taking over the marketplace -- whether it was railroads or oil companies or software companies. The same is true of the retail industry. On the macro level, people say that Wal-Mart only controls thirteen percent of the retail economy, which is pretty frightening.

"And in the meantime, Wal-Mart is draining the country's manufacturing capacity. Wal-Mart puts pressure on its vendors and manufacturers to provide cheaper and cheaper merchandise. This has forced those companies to look at ways to reduce labor costs, which has meant going to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Asia. American companies like Black & Decker or Fruit of the Loom or Rubbermaid or Levi Strauss don't make their products in America anymore. They have sourced them out to Asian sweatshops.

"Wal-Mart is now importing about $18 billion worth of Chinese goods a year. Seventy percent of the textiles that they sell in their store come from China. Wal-Mart is absolutely addicted to Chinese takeout. You don't hear Wal-Mart's flag-waving, bringing-it-home-to-the-USA sales pitch any more. China-Mart would be a more appropriate name for the company. Wal-Mart is responsible for about ten percent of our annual trade deficit with China."

"A Nation of Baggers and Clerks"

"Over the past few years, however, Wal-Mart has been eaten away at the edges. There are news stories of Wal-Mart workers suing them. Big class-action lawsuits on sex discrimination, gender discrimination, off-the-clock work. In other words, their own people are rebelling against them.

"I think Americans are starting to realize that this is a company that has misled Americans into believing that they represent prosperity and job growth, and in fact, it's just the opposite. They are not a form of economic development. They're a form of economic displacement.

"Wal-Mart creates a cycle of poverty in which there is a circular relationship between the people who work for Wal-Mart and the people who shop at Wal-Mart. So it's a loop.

"One of the black leaders in Inglewood, California, referred to Wal-Mart as a plantation. And yes, Wal-Mart has become emblematic of the plantation mentality in America where we are creating a part-time, low-wage, and low-benefits workforce.

"We are becoming a nation of baggers and clerks who lack job skills to make anything, who aren't particularly good at selling things, who are just used to put products on shelves and let consumers buy them. That is what we are preparing our teenagers and senior citizens to do. They fill that niche to become the stopgap lowest common denominator of employment in this country.

"These big chains are a chain of exploitation. Every link along the chain, someone is being exploited. From the sweatshops in China to the sales floors in America, every link is forged in exploitation.

"Additionally, the anti-trust legislation in this country has been immobilized by the large business interests. It's incredibly difficult. The Bush administration certainly benefited from contributions from Wal-Mart and Home Depot. That's why I tell people that all these battles are local. All zoning is local. That's where you can really make a difference. You can change your zoning codes. You can get better people elected. Get citizens' groups up and running to challenge them, to slow them down.

"Wal-Mart has had some pretty unpleasant things to say about me. They think I'm trying to make money off them, because they don't understand any other motivation except money. Which is why I borrow a phrase from Oscar Wilde who said, 'A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.' That is Wal-Mart. They know the price of everything. But they have no sense of the value of anything. They have a very narrow culture. It is very much focused on money, on selling things and making profits.

"Wal-Mart's culture works because it convinces its long-term workers that they are getting somewhere in life. But half of these workers quit every year, which means every two years Wal-Mart has an entirely new work force. So that is the pattern. You have a lot of people who are marginally employed, yet Wal-Mart says something like, 'If Wal-Mart weren't around, these people wouldn't be working.'

"Sometimes the average wage in Wal-Mart is $9.50 per hour. Sometimes it's $10.00. It varies. A Supercenter is almost run like a military operation: very tightly controlled, with managers, assistant managers, and coaches. It's a very intimidating atmosphere. If workers are screwing up, they get coached. Comments get in their records so they really have to watch themselves very carefully. If there's anything so much as a breath about a union, they'll be out the door.

"They say that Wal-Mart has an open-door policy. It's true: if you open your mouth, you're out the door. One group of workers in Jacksonville, Texas, tried to set up a union at Wal-Mart. It was a group of meat cutters. When they passed the union, Wal-Mart shifted to pre-packaged meat and they didn't need the meat cutters any more."

How Free is the Free Market?

"Some of my critics say things like, 'You're trying to take away the people's right to shop.' I keep pointing out to them, 'I'm not telling you where to shop. I'm talking about land-use policy. You've got 3,500 Wal-Marts to shop at. I'm not telling you that you can't shop there. I'm saying that maybe stores that big and located on the edge of town are not good.' The critics then repeat a few stock phrases like, 'I have a right to shop anywhere I want. What's your problem with the free market?' I answer, 'My problem is I like it too much. Because I believe in competition. And Wal-Mart is not the beginning of competition. It's the end of competition.' People don't understand that. They think that the normal process of the free market is that some companies will get big and some companies will go out of business. But my point is that we should be concerned when we see thousands of businesses going under and the whole class of small merchants being decimated. Because those people are the backbone of the local economy and they are more productive. They hire more people per thousand dollars of sales. And they give more than money back to the local economy because they are not shipping it off to headquarters or for stockholders.

"We've been told that to be a good American you have to be a good consumer. That's sad. The old message was be a producer. Produce something for your economy. Now it's just buy something,. And what we are buying is foreign-made. But yeah, there is a certain intimidation about speaking out like I do. In the last couple of years, some people in my hometown have attacked me personally. I've been called an extremist in a newspaper column. One person compared me to a terrorist.

"The big empire Wal-Mart has yet to conquer is the international division. That is the one area that's going be the major source of growth. While Wal-Mart is not tapped out in America by any means, the unconquered territories internationally are unbelievable. Wal-Mart only has thirty-nine stores in China. China is going to be the big growth market over the next decade for Wal-Mart. It is American colonialism at its best, even though the Chinese are making products for us."

Being a Political Activist

"When people say to me, 'You should do this type of activism,' or 'You should do that type...' I usually find myself saying, 'Yeah. Do both. Do all of them.' I think it's great when schoolteachers and priests and middle-American people stand up in public hearings and say that they don't want a Wal-Mart in their community. I take the attitude that all of this activity is positive.

"I'm very much a believer in inside and outside politics. I've done a lot of inside playing. I've been involved in political campaigns. I've worked with state government people. All roads can lead to a higher level. My daughter was arrested in Oakland about two years ago. She was just standing on the street as part of a peace demonstration. I was proud of her. Oh, absolutely. Made me feel really good that she was out there, that she cared enough about the war in Iraq to be out there. I thought that was great. I wish more people would do that. All roads can lead to a higher level. We just have to make people aware of the harm that is being done in their name.

"We need to strip away the phony patriotism of Wal-Mart and Home Depot and these corporations. You know, when Wal-Mart said, 'Bringing it home to the U.S.,' they were talking about bringing China home. Because the only way to win is in the aisles. If we can keep people out of the aisles, Wal-Mart is finished. And that is obviously a statement. You have to educate people. You have to educate before you activate.

"Thematically for me, the story of my adult life -- whether it was opposing the Vietnam War, or fighting nuclear power plants in the '70s, or going against Wal-Mart -- has always been not to accept the explanation of the government and not to see yourself as a creature of your government. You need to ask important questions about what's really going on.

"Right after 9/11, one of the first things that President Bush said was,'We should all get back to our normal lives and go shopping.' You know, I'm thinking, 'Wait a minute. Is that the highest level of civic responsibility? To go to a mall?'

"We need to question how we use our land, how we grow our food, what our communities are going to look like to maintain their unique sense of place, and the sense of how people like to think about their hometowns as being special."

Correction: The distance is 25 miles, not 50. Back

Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved. The information contained in Huffington Post commentary may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written authority of

Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 12, 2006



Americans love clear highways and are willing to pay billions of dollars for the chance that they might one day see what one looks like. Congress has done their best to bring this dream to fruition, and recently passed a $284 billion highway bill as proof of their dedication.

The highway bill they passed is a 1,132 page mammoth that contains something for almost everyone in the nation. In fact, the legislation contained 4,128 political earmarks at a total cost of $12.4 billion. Nearly every member of the House got a few projects for their district, and the bill’s authors cashed in big.

Some of these projects that received earmarked funds are important, such as the $2 million for the rebuilding of the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati. But there’s one earmark tucked into the bill that will make your head spin. In our ten years of congressional oversight, we rate this as one of the worst examples of corporate welfare we’ve ever seen.

First, think about the following question. If there is one company that is so big, so rich, and so powerful that it should never get a federal dime, who would you name? A short list that might spring to mind would include GM, ExxonMobil, Microsoft and a few others. Did you think about Wal-Mart? If so, you get our gold star.

In our mind, there is no one that is less deserving of federal support than Wal-Mart, yet it gets $37 million from Uncle Sam in the transportation bill. Last year, Wal-Mart made $20,000 profit every minute of every day for a total of $10.3 billion dollars on the year. Other retail giants didn’t do nearly so well: Target’s profit per minute was $6,084, and Costco’s profit per minute was $1,711.

Here are the details. The federal highway bill contains $37 million for widening and extending the road in Bentonville, Arkansas that is the main access point to the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Republican Representative John Boozman (R-AR), whose district includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s headquarters, was largely responsible for getting the earmark. He proposed an amendment to the highway bill to exempt retailers, such as Wal-Mart, from federal truck driving rules. To get this amendment to go away, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) offered Boozman an additional $34 million for the road in his final revisions to the bill.

Wal-Mart says the project will make it easier for their workers to get to their jobs. The company has grown at a much faster rate than the street has been improved they say. We’re trying to empathize, but the bottom line is that Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world, and they should be able to afford their own road.

To put it in perspective, Wal-Mart’s one project comprised 35% of all Arkansas earmarks. One Arkansas Highway Commissioner that represents northwest Arkansas told the Associated Press that the $37 million is too much to spend on one project when the state has so many other priorities.

As the largest, most profitable corporate giant in the world, Wal-Mart should not get a penny of taxpayer money. If they need a new road, they can build it themselves, and let Uncle Sam send the money to someone who really needs and deserves it.


For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110 or by email at
TCS is at

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fendi sues Wal-Mart over sales of fake handbags

Fendi sues Wal-Mart over sales of fake handbags
Fri Jun 9, 2006 6:52pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Italian fashion group Fendi S.R.L. sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in U.S. federal court on Friday, accusing the world's largest retailer of selling counterfeit handbags and passing them off as genuine at its Sam's Club warehouse stores.

Sam's Club stores in California, New York, Florida and other states sold knock off handbags, wallets and key chains that were identified as "genuine" Fendi products, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The suit by Fendi said that Wal-Mart has never purchased its products and never asked Fendi if any of the items bearing its trademark were genuine.

Fendi products are typically sold at high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in the United States and Fendi boutiques all over the world.

Wal-Mart said late on Friday that it had not seen the complaint and therefore could not comment.

In one example cited in the lawsuit, a black handbag bearing Fendi's trademark logo was offered for sale in a Sam's Club store in Miami for $508.25, 45 percent less than the retail price of $930 for a genuine Fendi bag.

Fendi, a unit of French luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton said in the suit that Wal-Mart has made millions of dollars selling the counterfeit goods.

Fendi is seeking unspecified damages and asked that the handbags and other illegal Fendi merchandise be destroyed.

Wal-Mart is based in Bentonville, Ark.

Sam's Club stores, which sell everything from bulk groceries to office supplies, recently said it would ratchet up competition with rival Costco Wholesale Corp. by selling more luxury goods like fine wines and diamonds.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wal-Mart Scores Low on Standards of Political Conduct for Corporations

Wal-Mart Scores Low on Standards of Political Conduct for Corporations

National Network of Activists Quarantine Wal-Mart Locations Across the

BOSTON, June 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, Corporate Accountability
International joins with Jobs with Justice, the Ruckus Society, ACORN and
other activists across the country in calling for a National Day of Action
pressuring Wal-Mart. While CEO Lee Scott convenes Wal-Mart's annual
shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, thousands of concerned
citizens dressed in hazardous materials suits and armed with yellow caution
tape will be putting Wal-Mart locations across the country under
"quarantine." The National Day of Action is drawing attention to Wal-Mart's
treatment of its employees: a majority of Wal-Mart employees are not
covered by Wal-Mart's healthcare plans, while those who are often face
prohibitive annual deductibles.

Corporate Accountability International is also challenging the retail
giant for using its economic muscle to manipulate policies and boost
profits at people's expense, violating the majority of Corporate
Accountability's Standards of Political Conduct for Corporations.

"Wal-Mart buys access to public officials and manipulates public
policies at all levels of government," says Corporate Accountability
International Research Director Scott Klinger. "The retail giant uses its
tremendous economic and political clout at the global, federal, state and
local level to get away with a whole range of abuses."

Between 1994 and 2004 Wal-Mart's federal political contributions
increased twenty-one fold. "Now Wal-Mart weighs in on U.S. politics with
one of the three largest corporate PACs in the country," Klinger explains.
"And that only includes contributions that are on the books."

Off the books, Wal-Mart hosted a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Maryland
Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr. in December 2004. Ehrlich later vetoed
legislation requiring large employers to provide health insurance for

At the local level, Wal-Mart swindles its own customers, whose sales
taxes are sometimes diverted from local schools, parks and emergency
services, to fund site improvements at the Wal-Mart store. At the Bullhead
City, Arizona Wal-Mart Supercenter, the corporation received sales tax
rebates of $1.2 million to pay for a highway turning lane, a traffic
signal, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and drainage. This is one of hundreds of
subsidy deals collectively worth more than $1 billion that have been
unearthed by Good Jobs First.

According to CNN, Wal-Mart is lobbying the World Trade Organization to
lift government limits on size, height and number of stores that can be
established. This move could make it easier for Wal-Mart to expand into
small communities. Laws giving preference to local stores or limiting the
number of stores foreign retailers can operate would be struck down as
illegal under the free trade rules Wal-Mart advocates.

"If Wal-Mart's lobbying effort at the WTO succeeds, this will remove
some of the last hurdles that prevent Wal-Mart from going global with its
irresponsible and dangerous practices," says Klinger. "Corporate
Accountability International is joining the voices of activists around the
country, calling on Wal-Mart to stop interfering with public policies, and
to adhere to Corporate Accountability International's Standards."

Corporate Accountability International created Standards of Political
Conduct for Corporations as a vision and goal for how corporations should
function in a democracy and believes the Standards will lead to a safer,
healthier and more democratic world. Corporate Accountability
International's Standards of Political Conduct can be found at: .

A fact sheet assessing Wal-Mart's performance against the Standards may
be found at:'s_Political_Profits.pdf.

Corporate Accountability International, formerly Infact, is a
membership organization that protects people by waging and winning
campaigns challenging irresponsible and dangerous corporate actions around
the world. For over 25 years, we've forced corporations -- like Nestle,
General Electric and Philip Morris/Altria -- to stop abusive actions.

For more information visit .

Patti Lynn
(617) 695-2525

Scott Klinger by cell in Fayetteville, AR
(617) 595-2961

SOURCE Corporate Accountability International


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Thursday, June 08, 2006



For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 01
(202) 557-7440

Bentonville, Ark., June 1, 2006 – Today, a billboard purchased by Wal-Mart Watch and placed at 1111 South Walton Boulevard in Bentonville, is undergoing a whitewashing by the very company that agreed to put up the billboard.

Whistler Outdoor Advertising entered into a contract with Wal-Mart Watch to put up the billboard and the display went up as planned at 8 a.m. today. Whistler approved the artwork after they received it on May 25. But this afternoon, owner Shawn Whistler reneged on the deal, and claimed that Wal-Mart Watch had “duped” the company. Whistler also told Wal-Mart Watch that many of his clients do business with Wal-Mart.

The billboard included the following quote from Wal-Mart’s late founder, Sam Walton: “Maybe the most important way in which we at Wal-Mart believe in giving something back is through our commitment to using the power of this enormous enterprise as a force for change.” It also called on Wal-Mart to accept Wal-Mart Watch’s “Handshake with Sam”. The “handshake” refers to the proposed agreement made in a in the New York Times on May 23, in which Wal-Mart Watch called on Wal-Mart to reform its business practices.

Wal-Mart Watch executive director Andrew Grossman issued the following statement in response:

“Back in the days of Sam Walton, deals were sealed with a handshake, which Mr. Sam considered the same as a moral contract. Last week we offered our proposed agreement, ‘A Handshake with Sam’, in good faith. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart responded to our handshake with jeers. Now another contract has been broken. Whistler Outdoor Advertising approved the artwork and billboard a week ago, and they put the billboard up this morning. They broke the deal this afternoon under what must have been withering pressure from Wal-Mart. Apparently there is no first amendment in Bentonville. We hope that Whistler will reconsider their decision. If not, we will accept our refund and contribute it to the Bentonville Public Library.”

Click here to view the billboard’s design.

Wal-Mart challenges Kroger

Wal-Mart challenges Kroger
Discounter on grocer's home turf

By Dan Sewell
Associated Press

With a high school pep band playing and employees clapping, cheering and stomping their feet, Wal-Mart opened its newest Supercenter to dozens of anxiously awaiting customers.

At the same time, the world's largest retailer squarely threw down the gauntlet to Kroger Co., the nation's largest traditional grocer, in its headquarters city and 19th century birthplace.

"This is the big dog of Cincinnati," proclaimed manager Larry Greer as he surveyed the sprawling new Forest Park store. After a boisterous round of "Give me a W..." cheering, he wasn't worried about letting any sleeping dogs lie.

"Everybody's aware of it; this is the home of Kroger," Greer said, adding that Wal-Mart considers Kroger a strong competitor. "Competition keeps us driving. Let 'em come after us."

On the same day, newly expanded Wal-Mart stores re-opened as Supercenters in Fairfield Township and in Florence. At least two more Supercenter openings are planned this summer in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana. Wal-Mart, which opened its first local Supercenter less than two years ago in Fort Wright, expects to have 20 in the region in another year or two. They could include a Supercenter in Newport's Cote Brilliante neighborhood, where eminent domain was used to acquire property for a retail development that has yet to be finalized.

Besides expanded offerings that include groceries, the stores usually host restaurants, salons, banks and gas stations. As the Bentonville, Ark.-based company has grown from its rural, small-town roots into metro areas, it's improved the look of stores, and expanded stocks of fresh produce and organic foods.

A total of six Supercenters opened May 17 in Ohio alone. The company, which opened the first Supercenter with groceries in 1988, operated 1,980 across the United States by Jan. 31, the end of its fiscal year.

"We have a lot of plans for Ohio," regional general manager Jerry Spencer said. "The entire state has been fabulous for us."

Carts rolling, shoppers roamed the airy, wide-aisled Forest Park store and its vast displays of electronics such as high-definition TVs and iPods, clothes, housewares and food including organic and ethnic offerings. The store was an immediate hit with some of the suburban female shoppers it's meant to attract.

"It's nice. Everything is right here where you can see it," said Larissa Coston, 33. "I can do everything here."

"It's so big!" said Shannon Gillespie, 31. "There's so much to do. I'm excited to have it here."

Having Wal-Mart come into your backyard, or any neighborhood to compete with you, usually isn't good news, said Jack Horst, a grocery analyst for Kurt Salmon Associates, a consulting firm that has studied the impacts of Wal-Mart expansion in other markets. In Dallas, for example, Wal-Mart's grocery market share more than quadrupled to 21 percent in five years as it opened 20 Supercenters. The company's supply chain and low costs make it a formidable competitor.

"I guess I would feel pretty darn threatened," Horst said of Kroger and other Cincinnati area grocers. "What you're seeing is the beginning of what will feel like a carpet-bombing campaign."

Kroger, which has more than half the market share in the Greater Cincinnati region, is pushing ahead with its own expansion.

"This division has always been very aggressive and very responsive to customers," said Amy Schulten, Kroger's advertising manager for the Cincinnati-Dayton area.

Kroger has announced plans for its first local "Marketplace" stores in three suburban areas. The company's first Marketplace stores opened in Arizona about six years ago, and there are now two in Columbus, Ohio, and 27 total among Kroger's more than 2,500 supermarkets and multidepartment stores nationally.

"It's a new concept, and there's been a lot of interest in this for our hometown area," Schulten said of the Marketplace stores, which are nearly double the size of typical Kroger stores and sell a wider range of foods and nongrocery items such as furniture, office supplies, kitchenware and even fine jewelry.

While expressing respect for Wal-Mart as "a very strong competitor" and saying Kroger is closely watching Wal-Mart's moves, Kroger chairman and chief executive David B. Dillon told analysts in March that Kroger has fared well in head-to-head competition.

Kroger last year increased market share in 20 of 28 major markets in which it faced significant Wal-Mart competition, Dillon said.

He laughed when an analyst suggested that Kroger benefits from the arrival of Supercenters.

"I have never considered the possibility that more Wal-Mart Supercenters might be good for us," he said, but added: "In those markets, you do have a certain amount of fallout, and in that fallout typically we end up doing better than we would had the fallout not occurred."

Like the home improvement business, where aggressive expansion by The Home Depot and Lowe's has crowded out chains such as Builders Square and Hechinger, the battle at the top between Wal-Mart and Kroger is hurting smaller grocery competitors.

Small regional chains like Big Bear in Ohio have become extinct along with hundreds of mom-and-pop supermarkets across the country.

Publication date: 06-03-2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wal-Mart blocking union in Ghana

General News of Friday, 2 June 2006

Wal-Mart blocking union in Ghana

The long arm of Wal-Mart has reached Africa and threatens union representation in a garment supplier in Ghana.

UNI affiliate ICU was well advanced with organising and winning recognition for 400 garment workers in Accra when Wal-Mart intervened.

Ghana's fast growing garment industry has become part of the global supply chain to Wal-Mart - the world's biggest retailer that is viciously anti-union on its home base in the United States and Canada.

Arriving for a meeting with local management the ICU team were introduced to Wal-Mart representatives. Later the company told the ICU could not go ahead with the process of union recognition that was well advanced if it wanted to keep its business with Wal-Mart.

The company is currently refusing to sign the required form that would permit formal certification of the union in the factory.

"This shows that Wal-Mart not only refuses to let its own workers join a union, but it goes to extraordinary lengths to stop workers joining unions in its supply chain," said ICU General Secretary Napoleon Kpoh.

He was speaking in Vienna after reporting the Wal-Mart intervention to the UNI Management Committee.

The ICU hasn't gone away - it's now considering its response.

Source: UNI global union

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Wal-Mart settles pair of lawsuits

Posted on Sat, Jun. 03, 2006
Wal-Mart settles pair of lawsuits

Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $315,000 in damages in response to two separate lawsuits that originated in a Manatee County store.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuits on behalf of three women who worked at the Wal-Mart SuperCenter located at 2911, 53rd Ave. E.

The first lawsuit was filed in August 2004 on behalf of employees Virginia Rylance and Linda Gliotti. According to the consent decree, the EEOC claimed that Wal-Mart was at fault because it subjected the women to "sexual harassment by a Wal-Mart manager which was sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a hostile, intimidating work environment."

The male department manager exposed himself, grabbed and fondled the women, requested sex and other inappropriate actions. Rylance quit her job in 2003 because of the actions and the manager, who was not named in the lawsuit, resigned, the EEOC said in a press release this week.

The second lawsuit was filed in February 2005 based on a charge filed by Laura Fulton-Eddy. She alleged an assistant manager at the same store sexually harassed her. The male assistant manager allegedly sexually propositioned Fulton-Eddy, subjected her to vulgar language and touched private parts of her body. The harassment didn't stop until the manager was transferred out of the store for "unrelated reasons."

Rylance will receive $40,000 for lost wages and an additional $160,000 for compensatory and punitive damages.

A Chapter 7 trustee for Gliotti will receive $90,000 for compensatory and punitive damages. The remaining $25,000 will be paid to Fulton-Eddy.

In addition to the monetary settlement, all employees and managers at the store, which sits near the intersection of State Road 70 and U.S. 301, will have to undergo sexual harassment training and be provided copies of the company's sexual harassment policy.

"Racial and sexual discrimination are intolerable in any workplace," said EEOC's Miami District Director Federico Costales. "The settlement of these cases advances the EEOC's efforts to eradicate employment discrimination, and should remind Florida employers to heighten their awareness of job bias by taking proactive measures to prevent it."

The lawsuits were settled earlier this week in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.

Wal-Mart reported net sales of $312.4 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, which ended Jan. 31, according to the company's annual shareholders report.

Melissa Followell, Herald

reporter, can be reached at 708-7920 or

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart

The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart

Every year, thousands of executives venture to Bentonville, Arkansas, hoping to get their products onto the shelves of the world's biggest retailer. But Jim Wier wanted Wal-Mart to stop selling his Snapper mowers.

From: Issue 102 January 2006 Page 66 By: Charles Fishman


What struck Jim Wier first, as he entered the Wal-Mart vice president's office, was the seating area for visitors. "It was just some lawn chairs that some other peddler had left behind as samples." The vice president's office was furnished with a folding lawn chair and a chaise lounge.

And so Wier, the CEO of lawn-equipment maker Simplicity, dressed in a suit, took a seat on the chaise lounge. "I sat forward, of course, with my legs off to the side. If you've ever sat in a lawn chair, well, they are lower than regular chairs. And I was on the chaise. It was a bit intimidating. It was uncomfortable, and it was going to be an uncomfortable meeting."

It was a Wal-Mart moment that couldn't be scripted, or perhaps even imagined. A vice president responsible for billions of dollars' worth of business in the largest company in history has his visitors sit in mismatched, cast-off lawn chairs that Wal-Mart quite likely never had to pay for.

The vice president had a bigger surprise for Wier, though. Wal-Mart not only wanted to keep selling his lawn mowers, it wanted to sell lots more of them. Wal-Mart wanted to sell mowers nose-to-nose against Home Depot and Lowe's.

"Usually," says Wier, "I don't perspire easily." But perched on the edge of his chaise, "I felt my arms getting drippy."

Wier took a breath and said, "Let me tell you why it doesn't work."

Tens of thousands of executives make the pilgrimage to northwest Arkansas every year to woo Wal-Mart, marshaling whatever arguments, data, samples, and pure persuasive power they have in the hope of an order for their products, or an increase in their current order. Almost no matter what you're selling, the gravitational force of Wal-Mart's 3,811 U.S. "doorways" is irresistible. Very few people fly into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport thinking about telling Wal-Mart no, or no more.

In 2002, Jim Wier's company, Simplicity, was buying Snapper, a complementary company with a 50-year heritage of making high-quality residential and commercial lawn equipment. Wier had studied his new acquisition enough to conclude that continuing to sell Snapper mowers through Wal-Mart stores was, as he put it, "incompatible with our strategy. And I felt I owed them a visit to tell them why we weren't going to continue to sell to them."

Selling Snapper lawn mowers at Wal-Mart wasn't just incompatible with Snapper's future--Wier thought it was hazardous to Snapper's health. Snapper is known in the outdoor-equipment business not for huge volume but for quality, reliability, durability. A well-maintained Snapper lawn mower will last decades; many customers buy the mowers as adults because their fathers used them when they were kids. But Snapper lawn mowers are not cheap, any more than a Viking range is cheap. The value isn't in the price, it's in the performance and the longevity.

You can buy a lawn mower at Wal-Mart for $99.96, and depending on the size and location of the store, there are slightly better models for every additional $20 bill you're willing to put down--priced at $122, $138, $154, $163, and $188. That's six models of lawn mowers below $200. Mind you, in some Wal-Marts you literally cannot see what you are buying; there are no display models, just lawn mowers in huge cardboard boxes.

The least expensive Snapper lawn mower--a 19-inch push mower with a 5.5-horsepower engine--sells for $349.99 at full list price. Even finding it discounted to $299, you can buy two or three lawn mowers at Wal-Mart for the cost of a single Snapper.

If you know nothing about maintaining a mower, Wal-Mart has helped make that ignorance irrelevant: At even $138, the lawn mowers at Wal-Mart are cheap enough to be disposable. Use one for a season, and if you can't start it the next spring (Wal-Mart won't help you out with that), put it at the curb and buy another one. That kind of pricing changes not just the economics at the low end of the lawn-mower market, it changes expectations of customers throughout the market. Why would you buy a walk-behind mower from Snapper that costs $519? What could it possibly have to justify spending $300 or $400 more?

That's the question that motivated Jim Wier to stop doing business with Wal-Mart. Wier is too judicious to describe it this way, but he looked into a future of supplying lawn mowers and snow blowers to Wal-Mart and saw a whirlpool of lower prices, collapsing profitability, offshore manufacturing, and the gradual but irresistible corrosion of the very qualities for which Snapper was known. Jim Wier looked into the future and saw a death spiral.

Wier had two things going for him: First, he had another way to get his lawn mowers to customers--a well-established network of independent lawn-equipment dealers that accounted for 80% of Snapper's sales. And Wier had the courage, the foresight, to take an unblinking view of where his Wal-Mart business was heading--not in year 3, or year 4, but year 10.

Wier traveled to Bentonville with a firm grasp of the values of Snapper, the dynamics of the lawn-mower business, the needs of the dealers, the needs of the Snapper customer, and the needs of the Wal-Mart customer. He was not dazzled by the tens of millions of dollars' worth of lawn mowers Wal-Mart was already selling for Snapper; he was not deluded about his ability to beat Wal-Mart at its own game, to somehow resist the price pressure. He was not imagining that he could take the sales now and figure out the profits later.

Jim Wier believed that Snapper's health--indeed, its very long-term survival--required that it not do business with Wal-Mart.

Every Snapper lawn mower sold anywhere in the world comes from a factory in McDonough, Georgia, a small town 30 minutes southeast of Atlanta. Coils of raw steel arrive on flatbed trucks every day at the old, nondescript building; brand-new fire-engine-red lawn mowers leave every day, loaded in 18-wheelers. The facility looks undistinguished, but it is energetically trying to defy the conventional wisdom about manufacturing in the global economy.

The Snapper factory has had an invigorating decade. Ten years ago, it produced about 40 models of mowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers; now it makes 145. Today, robots do the welding, lasers cut parts, and computers control the steel-stamping presses. Productivity is three times what it was 10 years ago, and the number of people working here, 650, is half what it was.

Indeed, the productivity of every factory worker is measured "every hour, every day, every month, every year," says Snapper president Shane Sumners, who walks the 10.5-acre factory floor with comfort and familiarity. "And everybody's performance is posted, publicly, every day for everyone to see." It's a lot like Wal-Mart--which measures the number of items every checkout clerk scans every hour. Some of Snapper's dramatic productivity improvements, in fact, seem to come almost directly from the Wal-Mart playbook. These days, the Snapper factory operates in Wal-Mart time. It must, because it operates in Wal-Mart's ecosystem.

Ten years ago, at about the time Sumners came on board, Snapper had 52 regional distributors. It uses no distributors now--the company runs four regional warehouses of its own and sells directly to 10,000 independent dealerships. Ten years ago, in part because of the complexity of the middleman distribution system, Snapper carried a huge quantity of inventory. It paid to manufacture and ship thousands of lawn mowers--worth tens of millions of dollars--without quite knowing when they would be sold. Now planners come up with an ideal level of inventory for every model, for every region of the country, based on things like historic demand and the weather. The goal is to make sure every customer can get the mower he wants--while making absolutely the smallest number of lawn mowers.

Production at the Snapper factory is rescheduled every week, according to the pace at which mowers sell. A computer juggles work assignments and balances the various parts of the assembly line. The main manufacturing line for Snapper's entry-level walk-behind mowers--with 28 people--was recently charged with producing 265 lawn mowers in an eight-hour shift. The group hit the mark exactly. That's a new lawn mower, from loose parts to sealed box, every 109 seconds. "It's all a matter of seconds," says Sumners.

It's not hard to make a cheap lawn mower. A cheap lawn mower feels flimsy, sounds louder than it has to, and even when new, requires a mysterious, frustrating combination of choke, priming, and pulling to start. The cutting deck of a cheap mower is stamped from thin sheet metal. Making a high-quality lawn mower--even in 109 seconds--requires attention to detail and constant improvement, which seems surprising for a machine that doesn't evolve that much.

All Snapper machines, from the simplest walk-behind to the most elaborate riding mower, are painted one color: what Shane Sumners calls "Snapper red." In the factory, the finished chassis of riding mowers coast along slowly, dangling from an overhead conveyor as they approach a 20-foot-long pool of red paint. The conveyor track dips low, and the mowers glide down into the pool and completely disappear beneath the surface, then rise back up, gleaming red, before heading for a pass through a curing oven.

It's not quite as simple as dip and bake, however. Each mower is electrically grounded as it hangs from the overhead conveyor, and a slight positive electrical charge runs through the 16,000-gallon trench of paint. "So the paint is attracted to the metal and builds up on the parts and sticks very effectively and evenly," says Sumners. The process is monitored every hour--from the speed of the conveyor and the temperature of the ovens to the pH of the paint--along 115 parameters. "If you control the process," says Sumners, "you will get a good paint job."

Snapper technicians start every riding mower before it leaves the McDonough plant. At the "hot start" station, a man wearing ear protectors squirts gas into the fuel tank and oil into the crankcase, pulls the starter cord, and brings the machine to life. He runs through all the gears, checks speed, engine performance, the mounting of the seat. The engine is given just enough fuel for the "run in." If the mower passes all the tests, the man sucks the oil back out and sends the mower on to be boxed.

As Sumners watches, one of the riding mowers takes two pulls to start, then comes to life with a rough growl. In the blink of an eye, the technician shuts it down. "Did you hear how that sounded?" asks Sumners. "It's not right. That's a bad one." The mower is shunted off to be inspected and properly tuned if possible. "If we didn't," says Sumners, "that mower would have gone to a customer."

The Snapper factory started making riding mowers in 1951. It is unadorned and old, but it is old in the sense of solidity and use. There is nothing tired about it. More significant, there is nothing sentimental about it. This factory isn't here out of some misplaced sense of economic loyalty to U.S. manufacturing. It's here because it makes Snapper-quality lawn mowers at a competitive price.

Snapper's factory hums with discipline and focus and urgency. Even with no products at Wal-Mart, a company like Snapper has to compete psychologically, has to keep the price gap between the big-box lawn mowers and its lawn mowers rational. If it did not, its potential slice of the market would get smaller and smaller.

Sumners has to spur his factory on with the same tirelessness as if it were supplying Wal-Mart--the efficiency of every factory worker measured every hour of every day--because Wal-Mart sets the pace, even if you're not working for them.

Jim Wier is 62 years old, with a youthful twinkle despite a thatch of white hair. He is a solidly built man who dresses casually. He is comfortable with himself. Wier, who until the summer of 2005 ran a group of lawn-equipment businesses that approach half a billion dollars a year in sales, is confident, direct, and unprepossessing. He mows his own lawn. "I don't want to hire a service," he says. "I still love to cut my grass."

Wier is much like Snapper's customers. "When we do surveys of our customers, they like to cut their grass. And they want a good piece of equipment to do it. We're designed to give you the best quality of cut. We have full rollers on the riding mowers, to give that nice striped look on your grass, like on the baseball fields. It makes you feel proud of the home you own. Proud of your lawn. The neighbors walk by, they say, 'Look how good the yard looks.' "

"We're not obsessed with volume," says Wier. "We're obsessed with having differentiated, high-end, quality products."
Wier doesn't really think that a $99 lawn mower from Wal-Mart and Snapper's lawn mowers are the same product any more than a cup of 50-cent vending-machine coffee is the same as a Starbucks nonfat venti latte. "We're not obsessed with volume," says Wier. "We're obsessed with having differentiated, high-end, quality products." Wier wants them sold--he thinks they must be sold--at a store where the staff is eager to explain the virtues of various models, where they understand the equipment, can teach customers how to use a mower, can service it when something goes wrong. Wier wants customers who want that kind of help--customers who are unlikely to be happy buying a lawn mower at Wal-Mart, and who might connect a bum experience doing so not with Wal-Mart but with Snapper.

And so in October 2002, with a colleague, Wier kept an appointment with a merchandise vice president for Wal-Mart's outdoor-product category.

"The whole visit to Wal-Mart headquarters is a great experience," says Wier. It really is a pilgrimage to the center of the retail universe. "It's so crowded, you have to drive around, waiting for a parking space, you have to follow someone who is leaving, walking back to their car, and get their spot. Then you go inside this building, you register for your appointment, they give you a badge, and then you wait in the pews with the rest of the peddlers, the guy with the bras draped over his shoulder."

Normally, meetings between Wal-Mart buyers and people from supplier companies take place in the legendary meeting rooms just off the vendor lobby. These cubicles are simple to the point of barren--a table and four chairs, and 30 minutes to make your case. "It's a little like going to see the principal, really," says Wier.

In this case, Wier says, both he and the Wal-Mart managers "had a feeling that this would be an important meeting." So Wier and his colleague were scheduled to visit the vice president in his office. Sitting on lawn chairs.

"The meeting started with the vice president of the category saying how it was clear that Lowe's was going to build their outdoor power-equipment business with the Cub Cadet brand, and how Home Depot was going to build theirs with John Deere," says Wier. "Wal-Mart wanted to build their outdoor power-equipment business around the Snapper brand. Were we prepared to go large?"

Talk about coming to the table with different agendas. Wier was in Bentonville to pull his mowers from Wal-Mart's stores. The vice president was offering a greater temptation: Let's join hands and go head-to-head against the home-improvement superstores.

Which is when Wier said no.

"As I look at the three years Snapper has been with you," he told the vice president, "every year the price has come down. Every year the content of the product has gone up. We're at a position where, first, it's still priced where it doesn't meet the needs of your clientele. For Wal-Mart, it's still too high-priced. I think you'd agree with that.

"Now, at the price I'm selling to you today, I'm not making any money on it. And if we do what you want next year, I'll lose money. I could do that and not go out of business. But we have this independent-dealer channel. And 80% of our business is over here with them. And I can't put them at a competitive disadvantage. If I do that, I lose everything. So this just isn't a compatible fit."

The Wal-Mart vice president responded with strategy and argument. Snapper is the sort of high-quality nameplate, like Levi Strauss, that Wal-Mart hopes can ultimately make it more Target-like. He suggested that Snapper find a lower-cost contract manufacturer. He suggested producing a separate, lesser-quality line with the Snapper nameplate just for Wal-Mart. Just like Levi did.

"My response was, we would take a look at that," says Wier. "The reason I gave that response was, it was a legitimate question. In my own mind, I knew where I'd go with that"--no thanks--"but at that kind of meeting you at least have to be willing to say, I'll investigate." And that was it. "The tone at the end was, We're not going forward as a supplier."

No lightning bolt struck. Except that Snapper instantly gave up almost 20% of its business. "But when we told the dealers that they would no longer find Snapper in Wal-Mart, they were very pleased with that decision. And I think we got most of that business back by winning the hearts of the dealers."

Snapper was successfully integrated into Simplicity, which in 2004 was itself bought by Briggs & Stratton, the company that makes many of the engines in Snapper and Simplicity mowers. Simplicity and Snapper operate as independent divisions, and Wier remained CEO of both until last summer, when he resigned to join the private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. In McDonough, business is strong. Shane Sumners plans to add a second assembly line for both walk-behind and riding mowers.

One serious hazard to Wier's strategy is that independent lawn-equipment dealers face all the same pressures that have killed, for instance, many independent hardware stores and toy stores. "That is a legitimate question and a legitimate concern," says Wier. "I think we have a part in that outcome. Can Snapper, as a major supplier, continue to supply [the independents] with great product, and a product different than you can buy at Wal-Mart?"

"I believe Wal-Mart has done a great service to the country in many ways. And it may be that along the way, they've driven some people out of business who shouldn't have been driven out of business."
Wier says, "I'm probably pro-Wal-Mart. I'm certainly not anti-Wal-Mart. I believe Wal-Mart has done a great service to the country in many ways. They offer reasonably good product at very good prices, and they've streamlined the entire distribution system. And it may be that along the way, they've driven some people out of business who shouldn't have been driven out of business." Wier wasn't going to let that happen to Snapper.

Wier had determined to lead Snapper to focus on quality, and through quality, on cachet. Not every car is a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry; there is more than enough business to support Audi and BMW and Lexus. And so it is with lawn mowers, Wier hoped. Still, perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the Wal-Mart effect is so pervasive that it sets the metabolism even of companies that purposefully do no business with Wal-Mart.

And the power and allure of Wal-Mart is such that even Jim Wier, the man who said no to Wal-Mart, a man who knows all the reasons why that was the right decision, has slivers of doubt.

"I could go to my grave, and my tombstone could say, 'Here lies the dumbest CEO ever to live. He chose not to sell to Wal-Mart.' "

Charles Fishman ( is a Fast Company senior writer.

Copyright © 2005 Mansueto Ventures LLC. All rights reserved.
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A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room

November 1, 2005
A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Oct. 26 - Inside a stuffy, windowless room here, veterans of the 2004 Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns sit, stand and pace around six plastic folding tables. Open containers of pistachio nuts and tropical trail mix compete for space with laptops and BlackBerries. CNN flickers on a television in the corner.

The phone rings, and a 20-something woman answers. "Turn on Fox," she yells, running up to the TV with a notepad. "This could be important."

A scene from a campaign war room? Well, sort of. It is a war room inside the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the giant discount retailer that hopes to sell a new, improved image to reluctant consumers.

Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas.

When small-business owners or union officials - also employing political operatives from past campaigns - criticize the company, the war room swings into action with press releases, phone calls to reporters and instant Web postings.

One target of the effort are "swing voters," or consumers who have not soured on Wal-Mart. The new approach appears to reflect a fear that Wal-Mart's critics are alienating the very consumers it needs to keep growing, especially middle-income Americans motivated not just by price, but by image.

The first big challenge of the strategy will come Nov. 1 with the premiere of an unflattering documentary. "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" was made on a shoestring budget of $1.8 million and will be released in about two dozen theaters. But its director, Robert Greenwald, hopes to show the movie in thousands of homes and churches in the next month. The possibility that it might become a cult hit like Michael Moore's 1989 unsympathetic portrait of General Motors, "Roger & Me," has Wal-Mart worried.

So, Wal-Mart has embarked on a counteroffensive that would have been unthinkable even a year ago. Relying on a preview posted online, Wal-Mart investigated the events described in the film and produced a short video contending the film has factual errors. (Mr. Greenwald denies there are errors and says that Wal-Mart has not seen the final cut.)

Wal-Mart has also begun to promote a second film, "Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy," which casts the company in a rosier light. Wal-Mart declined to make its executives available for the Greenwald film, but it participated with the second film's director, Ron Galloway. The war room team helped distribute a letter, written by Mr. Galloway, that challenges Mr. Greenwald to show the two movies side-by-side.

To keep up with its critics, Wal-Mart "has to run a campaign," said Robert McAdam, a former political strategist at the Tobacco Institute who now oversees Wal-Mart's corporate communications. "It's simply nonsense for us to let some of these attacks go without a response."

Wal-Mart's aggressive new posture is a departure from its tradition of relying on an internal staff to manage the company's image. The war room, which is part of a larger Wal-Mart effort to portray itself as more worker-friendly and environmentally conscious, runs counter to the philosophy of the chain's founder, Sam Walton. Believing that public relations was a waste of time and money, the penny-pinching Mr. Walton would not likely have hired a public relations firm like Edelman, Wal-Mart's choice to operate its war room.

So what has changed? For one thing, Wal-Mart's critics have become more sophisticated.

For years, unions hurled little more than insults at the chain. But over the last year, two small groups - Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart - set up shop in Washington with the goal of waging the public relations equivalent of guerilla warfare against the company. Wal-Mart Watch received start-up cash from the Service Employees International Union; Wake Up Wal-Mart is a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Unions have tried, unsuccessfully, to organize Wal-Mart's employees.

At the suggestion of Wake Up Wal-Mart, members of the nation's largest teachers' unions staged a boycott of Wal-Mart for back-to-school supplies this fall. Wal-Mart Watch, meanwhile, set up an automated phone system that called 10,000 people in Arkansas in June seeking potential whistle-blowers willing to share secrets about the retailer.

Wal-Mart did not rebut such attacks, even when Wal-Mart Watch released a 24-page report blasting the company's wages and benefits. Wal-Mart Watch said the report had been downloaded from its Web site 55,000 times.

Once a darling of Wall Street, Wal-Mart's stock price has fallen 27 percent since 2000, when H. Lee Scott Jr. became chief executive, a drop that executives have said reflects, in part, investors' anxieties about the company's image. Sales growth at stores open for more than a year has slowed to an average of 3.5 percent a month this year, compared with 6.3 percent at Target. And Wal-Mart is facing growing resistance to new urban stores, with high- profile defeats in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

There is some evidence that criticism is influencing consumers. A confidential 2004 report prepared by McKinsey & Company for Wal-Mart, and made public by Wal-Mart Watch, found that 2 percent to 8 percent of Wal-Mart consumers surveyed have ceased shopping at the chain because of "negative press they have heard."

The Greenwald movie threatens to make matters worse. It features whistle-blowers who describe Wal-Mart managers cheating workers out of overtime pay and encouraging them to seek state-sponsored health care when they cannot afford the company's insurance. And it travels across small-town America to assess the effects on independent businesses and downtowns after a Wal-Mart opens.

The film is a particular concern now that Wal-Mart is trying to move upscale, a strategy it hopes will appeal to higher-income consumers. In the last year, Wal-Mart has introduced a line of urban fashions called Metro 7, hired hundreds of fashion specialists to monitor how clothing is displayed in stores, and produced more polished advertising.

But for the fashion strategy to pay off, Wal-Mart must win over a group of shoppers who are sensitive to criticism of the chain's record - consumers, in the words of Wal-Mart's chief executive, "who are not worried about their next paycheck."

Hence the war room in Bentonville. Wal-Mart executives realized they were unprepared to react to what Mr. Scott began to call the most expensive campaign ever waged against a corporation. So the company quietly mailed a letter to the country's biggest public relations firms several months ago seeking their help in developing a response.

The contract went to Edelman, which assigned its top two Washington operatives to the account. Wal-Mart would not say what it is paying Edelman, nor would it allow interviews with the war room staff. Mr. Dach, who is active in environmental and Democratic causes, was an outside adviser to President Clinton during the impeachment battle. Mr. Deaver was President Reagan's communications director and the creative force behind Mr. Reagan's so-called Teflon image.

Edelman also dispatched at least six former political operatives to Bentonville, including Jonathan Adashek, director of national delegate strategy for John Kerry, and David White, who helped manage the 1998 re-election of Representative Nancy Johnson, a Connecticut Republican. Terry Nelson, who was the national political director of the 2004 Bush campaign, advises the group.

In turn, Wakeup Wal-Mart is led by, among others, Paul Blank, former political director for the Howard Dean presidential campaign, and Chris Kofinis, who helped create the campaign.

Wal-Mart Watch's media team includes Jim Jordan, former director of the Kerry campaign, and Tracy Sefl, a former Democratic National Committee aide responsible for distributing negative press reports about President Bush during the 2004 campaign.

The war room staff arrives at Wal-Mart's headquarters, a short drive from a nearby corporate apartment where they live, by 7 every morning. The group works out of an old conference room on the second floor, christened Action Alley, the same name Wal-Mart gives to the wide, circular aisle that runs around its stores.

Three display boards are covered with to-do lists. One says: "Promote Week of 10/24/05: MLK Memorial Donation. Urban/blighted community plan." Two large maps show the location of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores across the United States.

The team starts the day by scanning newspaper articles and television transcripts that mention Wal-Mart. Next come conference calls with Wal-Mart employees around the country to plan for events. Whenever possible, Mr. McAdam said, the war room will try to neutralize criticism before it is leveled.

That was the strategy behind what Action Alley considers its first coup. In late September, after several unions broke off from the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the splinter groups announced they would hold a convention in St. Louis on a Tuesday.

Action Alley members, assuming Wal-Mart would be a target of criticism during the union gathering, arranged for Wal-Mart to hold its own news conference the day before. It invited three local suppliers, a sympathetic local official and a cashier to say that Wal-Mart had a positive effect on the community.

"If you look at many of the stories that were written about that overall convention, they've got our messages in them," Mr. McAdam said. "In the past, when we've just responded to something somebody else is doing, it's sort of 'you know, by the way, Wal-Mart says ...' We got ahead of this one."

A campaign atmosphere pervades Action Alley. A small bus with the words "Clinton-Gore" on the side sits on the table. When discussing Wakeup Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Watch and the Greenwald movie, Mr. McAdam slips into political-speak.

"The people who show up at Mr. Greenwald's film are probably not swing voters," he said. "They are probably the true believers of their point of view and I doubt there is a heck of a lot we can do to change their minds."

Mr. McAdam continued: "They've got their base. We've got ours. But there is a group in the middle that really we all need to be talking to."