When I lived in Troy, in upstate New York, I went to the local Wal-Mart often and always felt sleazoid about it, as if I was hurting someone with every “low price” item I chose. I was cognizant that the land that once stood where the ware-box is was once gorgeous farmland. I also knew that the nice, older gentleman who greeted me at the door was a retiree who looked kind of out of place, yet he seemed happy.
The cover story in this month’s Fast Company, called The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know, puts the truth to my uncomfort. While the low prices I admired were quite nice, the economic impact of Wal-Mart’s global pricing strategy is overwhelming. Some stats: almost 10% of all Chinese exports go to Wal-Mart. 12% of the economic gains in the late 1990s “can be traced to Wal-Mart” according to McKinsey. None of this is, in and of itself, terrible. But, in its desire to own world commerce, the company has essentially driven all retail production to factories where labor is hardly an issue to be reckoned with. Moreover, manufacturers like Levi Strauss, one of my favorite brands, is now selling its cheap-o Signature line there, killing its more quality-driven labels, and putting all of its factories across the border. What does all this mean? My guess is that Levi Strauss will be out of business in 5 years. And so will all of its employees, here and abroad. The race to the bottom only goes one way.

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