Friday, January 21, 2011

Not the way to go about this ...

Michelle Obama is flacking for Wal-Mart's new push to bring more produce to its stores, according to the Washington Post. It's part of her effort to encourage better nutrition for poor families and kids. Her endorsement seems pretty gushing.

Obama called Wal-Mart's effort "a huge victory for folks all across this country" and said it has the "potential to transform the marketplace."

"When I see a company like Wal-Mart launch an initiative like this, I feel more hopeful than ever before," said Obama, who has made fighting childhood obesity and increasing nutritious food options in poor neighborhoods a top priority. "We can improve how we make and sell food in this country."

I get it; so-called "food deserts" are real; I can easily think of poor neighborhoods that have NO sizable retail food markets. Poor people can't very well eat healthy food if they can't buy it

But I don't like it. I don't like seeing the First Lady speaking out for a company whose retail strategy has been to prey on and kill off small competitors. Too many small downtowns in rural areas have died when Wal-Mart moved in on edge of town. Sure, folks got lower prices, but pretty soon every town looked just like every other, nobody had a job except at the big box store, the kids moved away looking for work.

In the cities, Wal-Mart seems to intend to put a few of their big boxes in genuinely poor neighborhoods, but, like more upscale chains, they'll mostly go where small retailers have already proved there is a market -- and take the business. I've described the extremely healthy array of small immigrant-owned stores and vendors in my poor neighborhood. These enterprises prove the existence of a market. Around the more upscale edges of the 'hood, we already see a high class chain store, Whole Foods, chipping away customers. I will not be surprised if we later see Wal-Mart trying to ride in and scoop up the low end of this proven market. That really would be desertification.

Wal-Mart is also far from a responsible corporate citizen -- and the First Lady should know it. When the Prez was running for office and needed union support, he said he wouldn't shop at this union-buster and she quit the corporate board of a Wal-Mart vendor. But now they are buddies again.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is asking the Supreme Court to kill a law suit involving potentially 1.5 million women employees who claim they were discriminated against in pay and promotions. More here. If Wal-Mart successfully argues that the class of injured people is simply too large to be allowed to sue, not only will its female employees loose out, but the general principle that injured citizens can go to civil court to win redress will be undercut. Every individual who thinks s/he is harmed will be on their own against each corporate behemoth. Does Obama really support that?

The President has been a deep disappointment because he seems to have an instinct to give away positions before even negotiating with forces that oppose his aims -- think the medical industry and the oil companies. It's sad to see Michelle Obama taking the same tack with the grocery business.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah strange bed-fellows huh. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but with a smidge of hope too; maybe the relationship with Mrs. Obama will change some of the discriminatory corporate culture that has permeated Wall-Mart. I know, what foolish thinking.


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