Robert Greenwald’s 2005 documentary takes a look at the effect Wal-Mart has had on small businesses, the economy and their employees. It is no real surprise these days when we hear about corporate greed and its effect on lower level employees. Yet the film does provide some interesting stories from former employees and more importantly a long well-researched list of the many egregious Wal-Mart business practices.
The former employees the film interviews essentially serve as character witnesses in the film’s case against Wal-Mart. The viewer really does get a sense that the company takes huge advantage of their employees. Greenwald does a great job showing how few rights Wal-Mart employees have and how the vehemently anti-union corporation keeps them from accruing any power. We hear stories of workers being forced to work countless hours off the clock in order to avoid overtime pay. The former employees supply countless stories of sexism, unfair treatment and being taken advantage of.
The film also effectively shows how Wal-Mart has had a largely negative impact globally. From the small mom and pop stores they’ve shut down in America to the poor working conditions of Chinese factory workers, Wal-Mart has had a harmful effect worldwide. The film argues that their mistreatment of employees this is one of the two main ways that Wal-Mart is able to provide such low prices. The other being the huge amount of money the corporation receives from government subsidies. Rather than trying to quash what some consider a monopoly, the government instead takes money from other programs and actually enables Wal-Mart to open in their towns.
Ultimately the film fails to address the elephant in the room; the fact that Wal-Mart is only this successful because of its customers. The film blames the Walton family, CEO Leo Scott and overly compliant government officials for all of the harm Wal-Mart have done. Yet nowhere does the film suggest that the general public’s desire for cheaper prices has had a hand in Wal-Mart’s success. The film needed to address this at some point, but shied away from it in the end.
Overall this film does a decent job of introducing the problems a mega-corporation like Wal-Mart creates. This film would be a great place to start for someone who is completely ignorant of these types of corporate practices. Yet if you are already aware then you will find this movie a bit redundant. At the time it may have been eye-opening, but for today its information is rather pedestrian. If you want to learn more about how corporations attempt to beat the system than definitely check out this documentary. However if this information is old hat for you, I’d give the film a pass.
This documentary review was done by Abbey Research staff member Curtis and originally appeared on this site.