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Friday, March 17, 2006

Walmart Watch: What would Martin do?

Andrew Young, one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s top aides, a former United Nations ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta, announced last month that he would head a group formed to spread the word about the positive contributions of Wal-Mart Stores.

Young says he was drawn to the Wal-Mart venture because the company is creating wealth, especially in rural and inner-city communities shunned by other retailers.

"I got involved with Wal-Mart because I think Wal-Mart is making middle-class lifestyles available to poor people. ... I agreed to chair the (national steering) committee of Working Families for Wal-Mart because there was another side of the story that wasn't being told," he says.

His company, GoodWorks International, is being paid an undisclosed amount to help promote Wal-Mart through interviews, speeches and editorials. One of Young's goals, he says, is to get the retailer into Africa. Working Families was formed last year and is funded primarily by Wal-Mart Stores.

He describes Wal-Mart's business practices this way: "It's hard-nosed capitalism that's very rough around the edges. But that's what it takes to produce a quality lifestyle for poor people."

"Poverty in America is market potential unrealized. The largest underserved market in the world is not China or India. It's the (American) rural poor and the inner cities. That's approximately a $2 trillion market that nobody pays attention to."

"You need to look at who's complaining about Wal-Mart," Young says. "If it's not 100 million people shopping there every week and it's not 8,000 people competing for 500 jobs (at a new Atlanta store), who is it? They're complaining because they're wrong and they don't understand that ending poverty means generating wealth and not just fighting to redistribute the existing wealth."

Needless to say, Yong's former allies are disappointed. "It's one thing for him to have a contractual relationship with Wal-Mart to help them improve their business practices," says Markel Hutchins, 28, an Atlanta activist who blasted the agreement this month in an opinion-page column in The Atlanta Journal Constitution. "But utilizing his civil rights iconic leadership status to defend the business practices of Wal-Mart is another issue."

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AKI COMMENT: Hmn. Dunno what to say about this one except perhaps everyone just may have a price. I do agree with his "market potential" of America's poor. As sinister as that sounds, he is spot on. Strategically, though, it is one smart move on Wal-Mart's behalf. Smart guys over there in Bentonville's "Situation Room".


Adrian said...

I guess Walmart may be buying more than bloggers...

Mnels said...

What's funny to me is how Target never seems to get the same scrutiny as WalMart. As far as I know, the employee wages and benefits are not all that different. Is it better PR or is that elites are more likely to criticise things that are not like themselves? "I don't shop at WalMart, it's icky and filled with icky people. Must be a bad company. Target? Have you seen my new designer toaster?" This may be a cheap shot but what else is it?

Adrian said...

oh wait, I know you're not talking about Target...I know you didn't just say that.

cmor said...

I wonder how much he costs?

On another note, Walmart appears to be changing their strategy to be more aligned with Target's "design for less". Wonder where that will take them?