Zeroes: Big Box Retail Stores

For my second installment of “Heroes and Zeroes”, I wanted to tackle a bigger issue- a subject that really effects how we purchase- and that is “big box” retail stores. There’s a good chance you went to one today, or at least this week. You might do all of your regular shopping at one, maybe even for groceries! Well, my friends, that is a lot of kingdom money being spent, and we’ve got to make sure that we are spending it wisely. This post might turn your shopping life upside down- I hope it does. The Zero of the retail store industry undoubtedly goes to: Walmart.

Despite all of the readily available information on Walmart’s downfalls, it shocks me how many people (especially believers) still patronize them for convenience’s sake or simply out of habit. The following is a non-exhaustive list of reasons to never set foot in a Walmart again:

-Forced overtime or forced open availability has led to worker strikes in several parts of the country. There has also been documentation of child labor laws being broken.
Lunch and rest breaks are frequently revoked.

-Full time wages that fall below the poverty line are normal for a career Walmart employee. Average yearly salary for a full time employee has been, at times, almost $1000 under the poverty line. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, is quoted as saying “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.”

-Gender discrimination, both in the hiring process and within the workplace, had been proven in several lawsuits, including Duke vs. Walmart Inc.

-Several cases of illegal or undocumented workers have come up within Walmart, who has denied knowledge but then been proven as lying by tapped phone conversations.

-Strict anti-union rules make it exceedingly difficult for Walmart employees to stand up for themselves or band together against injustices within their workplace.

-Very poor or nonexistent healthcare coverage is standard for Walmart employees. Only about 54% of employees are insured, while comparable box stores insure as many as 98% of their employees. It is argued that Walmart employees don’t get paid enough to even be able to afford their health insurance.

– Salary caps are often enforced on veteran employees, and salaries are even cut at times based on sales within the store, often cutting what small benefits are offered in the process.

-The presence of a Walmart can kill local businesses, some of which were previously in operation for years. The ability to get everything in one place for a very cheap price is very convenient, but comes at the cost of smaller businesses seeing dramatic loss in customer frequency and often having to close shop for lack of profit. This inevitably results in job loss in the community, no matter how many (low paying) jobs Walmart created within its walls.

-Walmart’s continuous quest for low prices forces manufacturers to comply with their wishes, often creating poor working situations within those companies as well. there are reports of major companies, such as Kraft Foods, having to close down factories in order to cut costs to keep their priced as low as Walmart demanded, resulting in major job loss for Kraft employees.

-Sourcing ethics. Much of what is sold in Walmart is manufactured
overseas in subpar working conditions, often at the expense of child labor and good quality. Reports of sweat shop and prison labor are widely publicized, and the store has even sold jewelry lines contaminated with dangerous chemicals in the past. In addition, such overseas shipping creates pollution that could easily be avoided if local sourced were in use.

If you would like to see a succinct documentary on the toll Walmart takes on local communities, pull up your Netflix and find The High Cost of Low Price. It’s worth the watch, especially if you regularly (or ever) patronize Walmart.

As a believer, I feel that I cannot spend a dollar of money meant to built the Kingdom in a place that is committing such atrocities as those listed above. It certainly is less convenient to have to make a few stops rather than one, but I have no regrets whatsoever!

Stop by tomorrow for our Hero alternative for retail stores!

Zeroes: The Chocolate Industry

Let’s talk about chocolate.  I must confess that, if chocolate is something that you either take or leave, I most certainly take.  In large quantities.  In fact, I pretty much always have a bar of some exotic dark chocolate in my freezer, and I pretty much always have an ounce or two every day.  I’ve heard it said that chocolate can actually be considered a health food because of the antioxidants it carries- well, I run with that statement.

 

The chocolate industry has been one of the more controversial parts of consumerism in past years, and is an interesting one because there are so many facets to it: ingredients, ethical factory practices, fair trade, workers and farmers rights, location.  Being so complicated and multidimensional, it is very easy for companies to do it either very poorly, or very well.  Today, we will highlight our Zero!  If you missed yesterday’s post introducing this column, you can read it here.

 

Our villain for today is Nestle.  What is totally mind-boggling about Nestle is that they are one of those companies that ‘own everything’.  Seriously, here is a list of companies owned by Nestle:

 

Nescafe

Gerber

Purina

Hot Pockets (Chef America)

Stouffers

Haagen-Daaz

Pellegrino

Perrier

Jenny Craig Weight Loss Systems

Ovaltine

Carnation

Lean Cuisine

Buitoni

 

Nestle also is a major partner in owning General Mills and Coca-Cola, along with 26.4% of L’Oreal Cosmetics.  Each time you make a purchase of an item from any one of these companies, you are supporting Nestle.  So, think of these companies, and where your money goes, as we discuss the next few issues.

 

One of the most unsettling issues that has come to light surrounding Nestle is child slavery.  Studies have found that, in the cocoa bean farms in the Ivory Coast, a large percentage of labor was being done by 12-15 year olds, a number of whom had been trafficked there from surrounding countries.  In fact, in 2009, Interpol rescued 54 children from a farm allegedly contributing to Nestle products, and made 8 arrests connected to human trafficking.  In this same area, there also are allegations of aggressive takeovers of family farms- destroying communities in the process.  It is important to note, however, the likelihood that Nestle had no idea that these things were happening in their supply chain- this could potentially be reassuring, but I would rather support a company that takes care to work with suppliers who are ethical as well.

 

 

Another point of contention against Nestle is their involvement in the deforestation of Borneo, in the acquisition of Palm Oil (most commonly used as an ingredient in KitKat and Aero Bars).  This environmental nightmare not only is destroying precious rainforest space, but is endangering the lives of thousands of orangutans in that area.  While protests led Nestle to make statements that they were moving to find other alternatives to sourcing Palm Oil, there is no evidence that this has happened.

 

Nestle is one of many companies that have been accused of ‘greenwashing’- essentially false advertising in regards to the ‘green-ness’ of a certain product or process.  For Nestle, this was pertaining to their bottled water- they have run several campaigns marketing their bottled water as ‘recycled’ or ‘mostly recycled’ when, in fact, few to none of the bottles (or the materials used to construct them) were recycled at all.  Such campaigns have ceased, and no changes have been made to the bottled water process.

 

This story was the kicker for me- though unrelated to chocolate.  In 2002, Nestle decided to collect on a $6 Million debt that was owed to them by the Ethiopian government.  While one obviously has the right to collect on a debt owed to them, Nestle classily decided to do so while the country was in the middle of a famine.  So now, the starving Ethiopian government is forced to hand over all available funds to a chocolate company.  Public outrage did reach the ears of Nestle bigwigs, who promised to reinvest all monies received back into the Ethiopian communities.

 

Want more on Nestle?  Read up on their marketing of baby formula in underdeveloped countries in the 1970’s.  Research their involvement in union busting outside of the US.  Nestle was named both the Most Irresponsible Corporation and as a member of the ‘bottom rung’ on the Ladder of Responsibility by two different organizations.

 

Bastard Films produced the film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, in 2010, which deals with villains in the chocolate industry.  Read more about this project here.

 

Want to know more about where your chocolate is coming from?  All information included in this article is widely available from a simple google search.  Visit organicconsumers.org and search ‘slave chocolate’.  Hint: Starbucks is the first hit.  Bye-bye, signature hot chocolate!

 

Stay tuned for an encouraging look at our chocolate industry Hero tomorrow!

Heroes & Zeroes: An Introduction

As a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe that I have the responsibility to make sure that each dollar that I spend is supporting the work of individuals that are bettering the world and upholding moral standards and ‘kingdom values’ of Christ.  As a good friend once asked me, ‘what good is it to tithe 10% in the name of justice and love, and give the other 90% to the oppressors?”  It is questions like these that should convict us and cause us to take a deeper look at where our money is going.

 

What makes a company ‘worth supporting’?  There are many facets to this question.  In this column, I intend to feature companies that are making the world a better place- this does not necessarily mean that they are Christian companies (in fact, many of them are not- which should show the Christian business world that they need to step up to the plate) but it means that these companies are holding themselves to standards of ethics and sustainability that should allow believers to feel comfortable knowing that their dollars are not funding any type of sinful or negligent practices.  This could be within the realm of environmental sustainability, ethical business practices, structures within companies that promote overall human equality, fare wages and working environments, response to public criticism, money given back to the community or charity, public disclosure, and countless other categories.

 

The fact is, many of the convenient locations that we spend our money are causing a direct negative impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.  Yes, there is a famine in Africa right now.  Yes, there is drought.  But is there a lack of food in the world?  Of course not.  Ghandi once wisely stated, ‘there is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed’.  I believe that many Americans, including myself, make everyday choices, such as eating a steak or an imported food item, that cause (through a long chain of events) things like famine in Somalia to happen.  But I also believe that, through education about these choices, we can make change happen, too.

 

This column will hopefully inspire you to make each shopping decision mindfully, whether something as large as what airline to fly or as small as what toilet paper to use.  I will feature a specific product or genre, along with a brand to support and a brand to avoid within that category!

 

Have something you would like to see featured, or a specific question about a company or industry?  Leave it in the comments!