The World’s Most Progressive Company? Wal-Mart, by a Mile

The Beast from Bentonville (and the world's largest private employer) announced that it's backing employer mandates for health care. That's not...

The Beast from Bentonville (and the world's largest private employer) announced that it's backing employer mandates for health care. That's not all it's been up to.


Hell froze over yesterday, a pig took its tentative first flight-and, in related news, Wal-Mart may have just secured the title of The World's Mightiest Advocate for Progressive Causes.That title claim became undeniable with Wal-Mart's announcement that it's endorsing the idea of compelling large companies to provide health coverage. Its bedfellows on that deal? The Service Employees International Union and John Podesta, who oversaw Obama's transition team and heads the Center for American Progress. You got it: Wal-Mart's allies are a think tank that has taken it to task on living wages, and a labor organization of the sort that Wal-Mart has always sought to quash; the cause is health benefits, which it has so infamously denied workers in the past.Wal-Mart's dramatic shift seems to have been brought about by a canny sense of the prevailing winds in America's political life. As The New York Times pointed out, big companies that have previously balked at providing insurance to all employees sense that some sort of change is coming. To wrangle better concessions, they figure they should link arms with the Obama administration, and come to the negotiating table as soon as possible. Wal-Mart in particular is advocating a containment in rising health care costs-which, incidentally, is a cause that President Obama has been propounding.The company has never been shy to admit that, when it adopts social causes, the reasoning is less about altruism and more about cash flow. Lee Scott, the company's outgoing CEO, admitted as much when he first began Wal-Mart's massive environmental push in 2005. At the time he said, "As I got exposed to the opportunities we had to reduce our impact, it became even more exciting than I had originally thought: It is clearly good for our business ..." Scott's successor, Mike Duke, underscored that commitment last week, at Wal-Mart's Sustainability Milestone Meeting. "This is not optional," he said. "It's not something of the past. This is all about the future."Four years on the green bandwagon is, of course a very short time. So what's been most surprising is the depth and stability of Wal-Mart's environmental commitment. Already, it has been astonishingly aggressive in using solar and wind power, carbon-neutral building, and carbon-efficiency in shipping. Its stated goal is to operate with 100 percent renewable fuels.Wal-Mart's power lies in the fact that it can influence everyone it does business with. Worldwide, the company employs 2.2 million people. It owns a mind boggling 11 percent of America's $3 trillion retail market. It accounted for nearly 10 percent of America's imports from China between 2001 and 2006. The line on the company's business practices has always been that it's ruthless: Suppliers that don't meet its purchasing guidelines get fined, and then get dropped with alarming speed. Wal-Mart does this because, thanks to the stores' low prices, profit margins are tiny, and the only way it can make money is with uncompromising efficiency. For example, Wal-Mart now rates its suppliers based on the energy efficiency of their operations, among other things. If you don't like it, you don't do business with the world's largest retailer. That's it.And that's precisely what makes Wal-Mart the most compelling model today for corporate responsibility. It is the world's biggest advertisement for the idea of a profitable, aggressively green company. But more than that, the company is proving-in the center of the country, in places far removed from the Democratic power bases on the coasts-that carbon emissions, and now health care, are not purely political causes. No politician could ever hope for that sort of power as an advocate. In the United States alone, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million-that is, 1.4 million people working under the company's ruling assumptions. One can only guess at the broader reach of all that green P.R.Is Wal-Mart a champion of sustainability in every respect? No. Despite its other good works, no company is as responsible for American sprawl as Wal-Mart is-it has predicated its growth on building stores far from city centers.But those are contradictions we have to live with. When dealing with problems as dauntingly complex as carbon emissions or health care, there are going to be messy counterexamples to every good deed. Pure-hearted, indie start-ups simply don't have the power to effect widespread change. The best we can hope for is that the influential corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart are tending towards the light. It's thrilling when they do.CORRECTION: The subtitle of this article originally stated that Wal-Mart backs universal health care. In fact, Wal-Mart backs employer healthcare mandates. The text has been edited to reflect the correction.
Articles

The Justice Department sent immigration judges a white nationalist blog post

The blog post was from an "anti-immigration hate website."

Attorney General William Barr via Wikimedia Commons

Department of Justice employees were stunned this week when the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) sent court employees a morning briefing that contained a link to a "news" item on VDare, a white nationalist website.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, VDare is an "anti-immigration hate website" that "regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites." The website was established in 1999 by its editor Peter Brimelow.

The morning briefing is distributed to all EOIR employees on a daily basis, including all 440 immigration judges across the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Smithfly.com

"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle

We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News