Movie Review: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
It is said that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. So, with the huge success that Wal-Mart enjoys, you might guess there may be some casualties, some collateral damage for all their victory. There isn’t any big corporation that doesn’t make mistakes, violate someone’s rights, or damage something. Most companies have been sued. Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk around about Wal-Mart’s violation of workers’ rights.

When I heard about the new documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” by Robert Greenwald, I wanted to find out what the hubbub is about. Greenwald became inspired to make the film when one of his neighbors, a Wal-Mart employee - told him about the poor working conditions he endured.

Greenwald interviews individuals who represent the statistics we hear in the negative press about Wal-Mart. Interviews are interspersed with actual Wal-Mart commercials, -- sappy spots that tell us how much Wal-Mart cares for employees and the community. And we see footage of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, giving inspirational speeches to employees.

Every time my daughter gets sick and has a high fever she has delirious-like dreams about that little happy face guy in the Wal-Mart TV commercial who takes his sharp sword and slashes prices. In the dream he is evil and foreboding. Maybe she’s onto something.

Among the ex-employees interviewed one had to rely on the government plan, WIC to feed her children. Other interviewees on the roster include Chinese factory workers who are trained to lie to authorities when asked about long working hours; they are also forced to pay for the squalid factory dormitory, even if they live in another apartment. There are poignant interviews with small town American families who lose their decades old local businesses as a result of Wal-Mart’s arrival. According to the film, Wal-Mart only provides security inside the stores to prevent theft, skimping on parking lot security, and resulting in many violent crimes: crime victims and friends and families of murder victims are interviewed.

“Wal-Mart: The High Cost for Low Price” is not a work of art; but Greenwald puts all the indicting facts together, which, when seen as a whole are astonishing. The upshot of the film is that there is no free lunch. Those uber low prices, wild success and Wal-Mart executives’ fortunes, do have a big cost, and it is borne on the backs of the workers, and, what is the most surprising -- by us, the taxpayers. Wal-Mart receives subsidies to build their stores – to the tune of $1 billion, which the mom and pop shops don’t. Also, they encourage their employees to rely on government medical insurance plans, and even welfare, to make ends meet, because of low pay. Reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance comes to a cost of $86 million to taxpayers.

When we were children we believed that if someone commits a crime, they are arrested and get punished. I guess I still hold fast to that model because it always surprises me when, even though everyone knows about a grievous crime, for some reason nothing is done about it. It will be interesting to see if this film has an effect on Wal-Mart’s future.

“Wal-Mart: The High Cost for Low Price” will be at the Balboa in San Francisco starting Friday, November 25, and will show special outtakes and bonus footage exclusive to the Balboa patrons.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield in San Francisco.
More Information:
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
2005 Directed by Robert Greenwald