Monday, November 05, 2007

[DVD] Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)

So Much Hate

Nobody loves an uncaring giant, one which is blessed to be in a position of power and fortune, but doing nothing to help the community, especially the little guy, and instead, ramps up its exploitation tactics. While we don't have a WalMart here, probably because of the demise of another American retailer K-Mart some years back, this film puts into perspective the model of the business - the low cost of goods that they provide in their stores everyday, and highlights the actual, full, and opportunity cost involved that don't get seen by the average consumer.

This is an anti-WalMart movie out and out. While it contains funny parodies of actual WalMart commercials and you might look at it as being mean, and at times think this is nothing more than a smear and slime campaign on the company, by the time you come to the end, it will set you pondering deeply about opportunity costs, and how important it is for giant corporations to adopt a giving back to the community attitude, and to do so with sincerity.

Without a doubt, WalMart is the largest retailer in the USofA, with the Walton family being amongst the richest in the world with their billions of assets and worth. However, how they make that kind of money, is by offering low prices to compete on volume, but at the same time, the documentarians uncovered very drastic corporate practices towards its workers. Things like overtime and outright exploitation of workers and their work conditions, the lack of health benefits and having the cheek to get their employees to go to the state for aid, thus utilizing public funds for something that should be taken of by the corporation. The problems these workers face in the aspect of health goes along the lines of argument provided in Michael Moore's SiCKO.

Unethical processes get revealed through interviews with ex-employees, such as changing payrolls and cheating on overtime, and various discriminatory practices, especially those against women and African Americans. The best bit belongs to the fact that being a private enterprise, they still get subsidies from the state when they set up their gigantic stores. Strange isn't it?

But perhaps the most heart-wrenchinig of all is the destruction of aged old mom and pop shops which provide excellent value to its customers, genuinely growing with the community they are set in, and actually having miles better benefits to the employees working under them. And when WalMart gets set up in the same community, inevitably these independent entities close in the face of extreme competition because of WalMarts obvious economies of scale, but at a price unseen, with the lack of concern for the community and the environment.

The narrative presents various viewpoints and perspectives from miscellaneous stakeholders, even venturing abroad to China and Bangladesh to interview sweat shop employees and you'd find the conditions they're offered quite appalling. There are so many stories which highlight problems that you're just flabbergasted at the inaction a corporation of such stature would choose to ignore, and giving safety and security of their customers a slap in the face.

The presentation style contains standard documentary styled news clips and talking heads, but what I found was quite interesting, was how it resorted to taking video clips of their CEO exalting the virtues of the company in employee meetings and speeches given, and then immediately ripping it apart through its branching into a particular perspective to back up the rebuttal.

But while this is not a campaign to force and hope for the eventual demise of the company. Rather, it's a call to action by the various stakeholders for the retail behemoth to examine itself carefully, to look at its processes and to determine the many areas where things can be improved, particularly the issue of employee welfare. I suppose nobody likes it when they feel they are being exploited and are given extremely poor terms and conditions, and have no share in the billions of profits being declared by their employer every year.

This Code 0 DVD of WalMart: The High Cost of Low Price is presented in anamorphic widescreen, though the segments containing the corporate video and speeches by WalMart CEO are relatively blocky, given it is blown out of proportion in the aspect ration. Subtitles are available in Spanish and in French, and scene selection is split into 18 chapters. A director's commentary is also available.

Amongst the Special Features are:
Highlights of: The High Cost of Low Price (23:15) is the short, summarized version of the feature documentary, which runs at 21 minutes after director-producer Robert Greenwald introduces the segment under 2:15.

The Making of : The High Cost of Low Price (16:35) is a look behind the scenes at how the documentary was made, and how different it was from its initial vision by Robert Greenwald, who also presents this segment. The filmmakers spent 5 months to do highly intensive research, as well as to get the word out to different stakeholders in getting them to talk of their experiences on camera, most of the time having being thought of as moles for WalMart corporation because of an innate paranoia that current employees adopt, which is understandable. We get to see how the idea was conceptualized, and how the search started, evolved, and developed into the stories presented in the documentary.

Canada (6:17) and England (3:52) shows the extent of WalMart's global reach outside of the USofA. Canada comes with optional French subtitles, and showed that it's not always doom and gloom for WalMart employees. Here, the workers are shown celebrating the departure of WalMart as the corporation frowned upon its unionized workforce, with the workers celebrating and proud to have caused the store to close as they are fed up with poor conditions. And they do so quite cheekily too, as the last scene demonstrates. But the England segment showed that not all are as successful in halting the juggernaut, and I thought this segment was partially developed, with only the small stall keepers protesting their lot, without showing any resolution.

Our Moral Voices (2:47) is quite peculiar, containing clips of speeches made by various religious leaders spreading the word on the evils of the company (Hmm....), while Don't Mourn, Take Action (8:11) gathers the views and perspectives from the various anti-WalMart civil groups out there, and gives them airtime to share their passion in stalling further development of the supermarket chain.

Actual Wal*Mart Commercials (NOT!) contains a bunch of hilarious WalMart spoof ads which must be seen to be believed, though I think that some of them used for promoting the movie does spoil it a little. Containing a bunch of ads grouped as "Betty Johnson", "Bob and Wendy", and "Jose", thank goodness there's a Play All option for you to run through everything in one sitting (5:37) without the need to view them from submenus. Laurie Levitt shares her experience too in the making of these spoofs, in a documentary titled Spoof Makers (7:47), which includes some behind the scenes clips in the making of these faux pas commercials.

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