Just to show you the level of hostility that the Obama administration has towards transparency; here’s the story of a former State Department whistle blower and his persecution by the institution he gave so much of his life to. Peter Van Buren wrote a book about the United States’s involvement in Iraq back in 2012. The book was part of the powerful The American Empire Project series which features works by authors such as Noam Chomsky, Andrew Bacevich and the late Chalmers Johnson. After the book was published the State Department forced Mr. Van Buren out of his job and also tried to take away his pension.
As Van Buren contested the suspension of his pension payments from the government, the reality he was presented with led him to seek temporary employment to make ends meet.
As he writes in The Nation.
My skill set was pretty specific to my old job. The market was tough in the Washington, DC area for someone with a suspended security clearance. Nobody with a salaried job to offer seemed interested in an old guy, and I needed some money. All the signs pointed one way—toward the retail economy and a minimum wage job.
He ended up working for a big box store that he likes to call “Bullseye,” but I think it’s a safe bet to say that he’s really referring to Target Corp. Van Buren’s insight into the environment that surrounds a McJob is as informative as it is depressing.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. Believe it or not, that turns out to be an acquired skill, even for a former pasty government bureaucrat like me. Spend enough time in the retail minimum wage economy and it’ll be trained into you for life, but for a newcomer, it proved a remarkably slow process. Take the initiative, get slapped down. Break a rule, be told you’re paid to follow the rules. Don’t forget who’s the boss. (It’s never you.) It all becomes who you are.
From my own personal experience I can tell you that these jobs will suck your soul right out of your body.
As Van Buren states:
I’d see employees rushing in early, terrified, to stand by the time clock so as not to be late. One of my fellow workers broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she’d be fired on the spot. And what a lousy way to live that is, your only incentive for doing good work being the desperate need to hang onto a job guaranteed to make you hate yourself for another day. Nobody cared about the work, only keeping the job. That was how management set things up.
He goes on to talk about the poverty wages earned, the meager hours allotted and the multiple McJobs held by people to compensate for the low wages that all of these corporations pay. All the while the top executives of these corporations earn millions.
In the end, there’s no way someone is going to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps from doing this sort of work. Ultimately, Peter Van Buren won his battle over his pension with the State Department and was able to leave this McJob and retire.
When you’re a supplier for Wal-Mart you end up becoming a contortionist, bending to the whims of the mega-retailer. It is the big-box store’s control of global supply chains that often lead to workplace abuse and environmental degradation as suppliers perpetrate a race to the bottom, producing goods at the lowest price point possible.
On the face of things it would seem that western-based corporations are becoming more aware of the abuses inherent in the global supply chain. Now they are much more likely to pay lip service to these issues instead of ignoring them completely. Take the disasters in Bangladesh for example.
Now corporations like Wal-Mart are even mobilizing their PR machines to broadcast that things are “different.”
Retailers and growers want us to believe that they’re doing right by the environment and workers. Gerawan Farming, producers of Prima brand plums, peaches, nectarines and grapes talks about the “best wages” and other benefits they allegedly provide to over 5,000 farm workers who harvest these crops. Walmart, a major purchaser of Prima brand products, also makes similar statements, and has gone as far as posting “Standards for Suppliers.”
The truth about the Prima brand is completely different than what we’re being led to believe. Gerawan Farming is being accused of paying farm workers below minimum wage among other labor violations. Gerawan Farming is also violating Wal-Mart’s so called “Standards for Suppliers,” but so far Wal-Mart has done nothing to discipline this supplier.
In the end, what this all comes down to is people learning about supply chains and how they get manipulated. When you demand goods that are low-cost and mass produced you end up with lower quality, negative environmental impact and labor issues in your supply chain.
Target also has a video like this as well.
Update – I see that Wal-Mart has used DMCA to get YouTube to take the video down. When this was first uploaded by the original owner, I knew that it might get taken down because Target had done the same thing with a DMCA request before. So I downloaded a copy off of YouTube. I’m looking for a place to upload it where it won’t get taken down again. Perhaps some server farm in Eastern Europe? Pirate Bay? Who knows.
The people of the Indian state of Rajasthan are speaking out against foreign corporations like Wal-Mart being able to directly invest in supermarket chains. One of the major political parties in that state opposes foreign direct investment because of the impact it would have on smaller merchants. This sounds a lot like what we here in America have been saying about chain stores and their effect on main street.
For years now, Wal-Mart has been trying to make inroads into India only to have come up short.
As this New York Times article from October of 2013 mentioned:
Wal-Mart’s problems in India extend well beyond the government’s procurement rules. The Indian authorities are investigating whether Wal-Mart violated foreign investment rules by giving Bharti Retail an interest-free loan of $100 million that could later be converted into a controlling stake in the company. Both companies deny wrongdoing.
Last November, the joint venture between Wal-Mart and Bharti suspended several senior executives and delayed some store openings as part of an internal bribery investigation, one of a series of bribery inquiries that have shaken Wal-Mart’s international operations. In June, the joint venture replaced its chief executive.
In the end Wal-Mart decided to walk away from the joint venture with retailer Bharti. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on India entirely. There are also other large retailers like the UK’s Tesco who are seeking new market share in the country. Eventually I’m sure that the local governments of states throughout India, will see foreign direct investment as necessary for economic development. But it is my hope that they will negotiate deals on their terms that won’t hurt the smaller independent businesses in their states. I would also hope that they take labor and environmental issues into consideration when negotiating with foreign investors too.
From a factory in Bangladesh to a Walmart store near you – the story of a $5.97 t-shirt. This video takes a look at Walmart’s history of worker mistreatment – including below federal poverty level wages, intimidation and poor health and safety standards. We must fight for dignity, health and safety, freedom of association and collective bargaining to stop Walmart’s global race to the bottom.
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