The Karmic Consequences Of Wal-Mart

by Cameron Karsten Apr 4, 2007

a closed and shuttered walmart

The high cost of low price ripples through the Universe, producing unintended consequences.

I rose from the television, my evening’s indulgence. I walked through the crystal glare of the screen and entered the kitchen.

Flicking on the lights, I reached the pantry, opened its wooden doors and pulled down two contents: a can of Equal Exchange Organic Hot Cocoa, and a plastic bag of Western Family Marshmallows-jumbo.

Outside, a layer of clouds blocked the night sky. A sheet of rain piddled on the patio. As the teakettle came to a boil, I turned down the gas flame and filled my mug.

I stirred in the powdered chocolate and white puffs of sugar. As the marshmallows dissolved to sweet perfection, I wondered: is true sustainability ever possible?

A Sickness At The Root

Back in the television room, I continued watching the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Directed by Robert Greenwald, the film captures the stories of employees and those affected across the United States.

It is a story of American capitalism gone awry. Like David versus Goliath, the box-store behemoth slams into a community and entices families with its cheap plastic products. We hear from an employed mother forced to seek government-assisted healthcare to raise her children, and a family-owned hardware store crushed by the neighboring Wal-Mart superstructure.

The movie recalled my recent journey to Mazatlan, Mexico and the newly razed soil to accommodate the acres of asphalt and the high ceilings of cheap Wal-Mart goods. Not only has the corporation captured the minds and bodies of Americans, but now it extends to Mexico, Europe, and countless other countries.

a shipyard filled with walmart goodsWal-Mart imports an outrageous amount of products from overseas. On November 29, 2004, Jiang Jingjing of China Daily reported, “The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., says its inventory of stock produced in China is expected to hit US$18 billion this year, keeping the annual growth rate of over 20 per cent consistent over two years.”

That’s an estimated $18 billion pumped out from sweatshop factories employing young, naïve women, men and children living in poor provinces. According to Global Exchange, Wal-Mart employs 400,000 workers overseas.

It’s everywhere. At the beginning of this year, just 15.59 miles from my doorstep, a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened its doors on January 31 in Poulsbo, WA. It’s 203,000 sq. ft. store provides 525 new jobs in 36 departments that remains open to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What’s most amazing, apart from the $35,000 donated to local organizations through its Good Works community involvement program, is the fact that twelve miles down the road there is another Wal-Mart Supercenter located in Silverdale, Washington.

The Accomplice In The Mirror

As always, my cocoa was most delicious. Let it be known hot cocoa without marshmallows is not the same. Plainly, it sucks.

But as I continued to watch the film, I felt a pang of guilt. Here I was, drinking organic hot cocoa fairly traded through the worldwide network of small farmers and co-ops, yet topped with gigantic, jumbo-puffed, white-oozing, falsified sugar marshmallows.

No, the marshmallows were not organic, fairly trade, or manufactured with conscious decisions. They were packed, shipped, stacked and stored for months. They were not sustainable, the plastic bag unsalvageable-America’s weak recycling programs will not help this time.

The movie ended. I went to the kitchen sink and washed my brown, sugar-stained mug. I opened the pantry and perused its contents. I took note of the products: most were organic, purchased in bulk. They were stored in containers able for reuse or recycling.

an empty coffee cupThey were fresh and limited; only the necessities and a few luxuries, not piled with the excesses of your average soccer-crazed Mom with an over-zealous fear of Judgment Day. But still…those marshmallows.

Despite my reassurance about the impact I was making on the world, I felt a needed to do more (or less). This yearning carries me into each and every experience. It is one of caring for the world, caring for our family of brothers and sisters.

It is a desire to look forward into the future and make sure we have preserved the beauty of the land and its resources for the generations to come.

What more can I do? What more can we do to better our minds and lifestyles? And what more can we do to make a difference in the way economies run so economic tyrants like Wal-Mart return to their more modest roots.

Sam Walton, Wal-Mart’s founder, once said, “You can’t create a team spirit when the situation is so one-sided, when management gets so much and workers get so little of the pie.” I wonder if today’s CEO Lee Scott remembers his words?

The Karmic Consquences

In Mexico, I overheard a woman who had been traveling to Mazatlan for twenty-five years. She was grateful for the new Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Now just a mere five-minute pulmonia ride, she buys all her groceries as if she were back home. “We arrive. We shop at Sam’s Club.”

a bountiful shelf of fruitThat night, I found myself in the heart of Old Mazatlan wandering the Centro Historic in Mercado Pino Suarez. This was Mexico.

The large market houses vendors from traditional foods of homebrewed recipes to clothing and appliances. It felt real. It is a culture supporting people. It is their livelihoods mingling with their tradition of agriculture, textiles and cooking.

Purchases made, a small-town local supported.

Back home, the US continues to expand and dominate other regions from the Latin world, to China, India and Bangladesh, to Europe and beyond.

There are those among us who condemn this expansion, who believe in a higher standard, not of income or consumption, but in something far surpassing the physical world. We’ve come to recognize Mother Earth’s life. If some don’t take notice, it’s bound to fall into hands far more omniscient.

On March 15, the Wal-Mart of Poulsbo saw a glimpse resistance. The Seattle Times reported a suspicious fire that broke out in the women’s undergarment department causing one million dollars of damage. Nobody was injured and officials are looking into suspected arson.

Cameron Karsten writes a weekly spiritual travel column for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

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