Walmart and Its Critics

Readings and activities encourage students to explore the chain's amazing success and the controversy surrounding its policies in the U.S. and abroad.


To the Teacher:

Wal-Mart, a powerhouse of American and global capitalism, has introduced and refined techniques for successful merchandising that have made it Fortune magazine's "most admired company in America" for the past two years. The materials that follow detail how Wal-Mart has achieved that status—and why, at the same time, it has come under increasing critical attack.

A case study of Wal-Mart's operations is appropriate for classes studying such subjects as economic globalization, the outsourcing of American jobs and businesses, the union and feminist movements, information technology, health care issues, and the history of American business.

Suggestions for student activities precede these materials; discussion questions follow each of the readings; further suggestions for the classroom conclude the materials.

Suggested opening activities

1. If a Wal-Mart store is in the vicinity, probably most students have been there. What are their reactions to the store? What do they like most about it and why? What, if anything, do they dislike and why? What do they know about why Fortune magazine has named Wal-Mart the "most admired company in America" in each of the past two years? Are they aware of any criticisms of Wal-Mart?

Questions students have about Wal-Mart might be the starting point for an inquiry-oriented approach to the subject. How might such questions be answered? See "Teaching Critical Thinking," available on this website, for detailed suggestions about this approach.
2. Speak with the store manager of your local Wal-Mart about arranging
a class field trip to the store and a question-and-answer session with him or her. Prepare students for the visit. What questions do they want to have answered, either by their observations or in a session with the manager?


The Wal-Mart Success Story

  • "Wal-Mart is working for everyone... The truth is Wal-Mart provides great value for customers, opportunities for our workforce, economic support for communities,"declared Lee Scott, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,in an ad appearing in the New York Times and other newspapers (1/13/05).
  • Wal-Mart makes "corporate crime an integral part of its business strategy," Liza Featherstone wrote in The Nation (1/3/05)
  • Wal-Mart is the "most admired company in America" for 2003 and 2004, Fortune magazine announced.
  • "I don't think Wal-Mart is good for America," said Jon Lehman, who worked for Wal-Mart for 17 years and managed six of its stores.

Obviously there are differences of opinion about Wal-Mart. But there are no differences of opinion about the following facts:

  • 100 million people shop every week at Wal-Mart's more than 3,600 U.S. stores.
  • Inglewood and Bakersfield, California are among the growing list of places whose citizens have prevented Wal-Mart from coming to town.
  • Wal-Mart had $256 billion in sales in 2003, eight times more than Microsoft.
  • A lawsuit covering 1.6 million current and former employees accuses Wal-Mart of systematically paying women less than men and offering women fewer opportunities for promotions.
  • Wal-Mart estimates it imports $15 billion worth of Chinese products yearly; others give higher estimates.
  • "I have always felt strongly that we don't need unions in Wal-Mart," its founder Sam Walton wrote in his autobiography. Official company policy to this day is to prevent the formation of unions among its employees.

So even to report facts about Wal-Mart is to present a conflicting picture of America's most successful business. On one hand, the millions who shop at Wal-Mart's "big box" stores across America and other countries clearly enjoy the low prices, the huge variety of goods on sale, and the efficient service. But on the other hand, Wal-Mart now faces a regular drumfire of attacks charging it hurts local businesses when it opens new stores, mistreats workers, and exports American jobs and businesses to impoverished countries where labor is much cheaper and from which it earns much higher profits.

So is Wal-Mart "working for everyone"? An answer might begin with its founder, Sam Walton (thus the name, Wal-Mart) who opened the first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. Picking Rogers was no accident. A Wal-Mart website ( says, "Sam Walton built Wal-Mart on the revolutionary philosophies of excellence in the workplace, customer service, and always having the lowest prices." Walton was convinced that such philosophies—especially the one about low prices—were sure-fire winners for small-town, rural America.

Walton was right. By 1970 he had stores in 38 locations. By 1979, he had 276 stores and $1 billion in sales. In 1987 he opened his first "hypermarket," a hybrid of grocery and general merchandise, in 1991 he opened his first store abroad, in Mexico City. At the time of his death in 1992, Sam Walton was the second richest man in the world.

Today, Wal-Mart's 1.4 million employees worldwide make up a larger workforce than General Motors, Ford, General Electric, and IBM combined. (Samuel Head, "Inside the Leviathan," New York Review, 12/16/04) And it continues its extraordinary growth and development with a laser-like focus on reducing costs. This keeps prices low, sales growing, and profits high. How does Wal-Mart keep its costs so low?

1) expert use of information technology

2) pressure on manufacturers either to cut their prices or lose Wal-Mart's business

3) importing goods from low-wage countries, especially China

4) keeping wages and benefits low for its US workforce (For more on this last item, please see Reading 2.)

1) Expert use of information technology

The bar code: Let's say you've got a can of chicken-flavored cat food in your supermarket basket. The clerk swishes the can past an electronic scanner and you hear a "beep" to indicate that the bar code's black marking on the can has been "read" and its price recorded on your sales slip. "The cat food," says a former Wal-Mart store manager, Jon Lehman, " is recorded by the computer... and then an order is generated... that order goes to the distribution facilities throughout the company and that distribution facility, the warehouse, fills the order, and it's sitting back on the shelf the next night or the following night..."

The bar code and wireless hand-held units operated by clerks and managers tell Wal-Mart exactly what item has been sold and at what price and then, through a computer network, the information is delivered to a company warehouse to replace it. Simple enough, but there's more. "You can track sales on specific items, specific weeks, specific days, specific hours of the day. You can find out what size of toothpaste is your best seller, what times of year you sell the toothpaste. You can track sales spikes during the year, during certain seasonal periods—clothes, sizes, colors, flavors—all of these things. It's really incredible." (Frontline)

A Wal-Mart store generates a huge amount of information, enabling it to foresee what will probably sell well just before the Fourth of July or at Thanksgiving time. It can fine-tune its store inventory for young and old, rural and urban, warm and cool weather. It knows what type of back pack sells well when school begins and what kinds of jeans sell best when the school year ends. The upshot is that Wal-Mart avoids paying to acquire and store items that are not in demand—thus saving the company billions.

The satellite system: Wal-Mart has the largest commercial satellite system in the world. It collects information and beams it to its suppliers. Edna Bonacichi, a University of California sociology professor, explains: "So the idea is to master the process of production, movement of the goods, warehousing the goods, making sure that it arrives at the right place at the right time. That's what Wal-Mart is so good at. And they're very good at squeezing the price out of that. So they insist it be done cheaply, it be done accurately, it be done quickly." (Frontline)

Credit or debit cards: Other sources of information for Wal-Mart include credit or debit cards. "They can find out your mortgage amounts, your court dates, your driving record, your credit-worthiness," reports Katherine Albright, the founder and director of a consumer advocacy group. ( New York Times, 11/14/04). As the saying goes, information is power. So as it amasses more and more data about its customers, Wal-Mart is able not only to anticipate their buying habits, but also to pressure its suppliers

2) Pressure on manufacturers

Wal-Mart knows not only its own business but also that of its suppliers of manufactured goods. Consider this fictional but realistic example: John Smith, a Wal-Mart executive, knows what Fred Jones, his supplier of hammers, spends on raw materials, production, and shipping costs. In line with Wal-Mart's policy of forcing its costs down, Smith tells Jones to deliver his hammers to Wal-Mart next year at a 3 percent discount. Jones protests. He tells Smith that his company is operating on a very small profit margin. That profit will be eliminated if he sells at that discount.

Smith may have some sympathy for Jones' plight, but he has his marching orders from Wal-Mart. Jones must discount or forget Wal-Mart's business, which makes up a sizable portion of his yearly sales. Jones decides to shut his plant down. One hundred twenty-five union workers making good wages lose their jobs. Jones goes out of business or moves his plant to a cheaper labor area like Mexico or, better yet, China. In time, Wal-Mart will buy his hammers at the 3 percent discount, and Jones will still make money because of his sharply lower costs.

Such a scenario is commonplace in Wal-Mart history for everything from socks to TV sets, from bikes to furniture. It helps to explain why Wal-Mart is able to undersell its competitors by an average of as much as 14 percent. ( New York Times, 10/19/03) It helps to explain why a retail analyst says, "Wal-Mart lives in a world of supply and command, instead of a world of supply and demand." ( New York Times, 11/14/04) In the automobile industry, General Motors and Ford continue to rule over their retailers, most of them relatively small car dealerships. But big box outfits like Wal-Mart have led the way to a new world in which the retailer rules over the manufacturer.

3) Importing goods

Years ago, Sam Walton recognized the likely benefits of crossing the Pacific for lower-priced goods. At the same time in the 1980s that he was trumpeting his "Buy American" campaign, he had begun buying in quantity from China and other Asian countries. Walton may have been sincere in wanting to "Buy American," but he was a hard-nosed businessman."We're not interested in charity here," he wrote in his autobiography. "We don't believe in subsidizing substandard work or inefficiency." In fact, Wal-Mart was a latecomer to Asia. Sears, Kmart, Target, and JCPenney were already there.

Wal-Mart's business with China became a touchy subject in 1989, after the Chinese government murdered student protestors in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Other Asian countries where Wal-Mart goods were produced were also coming under fire for their human rights abuses. Walton found a way to avoid criticism about this: He set up friends to act as middlemen through a new company called Pacific Resources Export, Ltd (PREL). PREL would do the buying for Wal-Mart, creating a layer of insulation between Wal-Mart and the labor practices of its suppliers.

Just across the border from Hong Kong, Chinese leaders were turning Shenzhen, a fishing village, into a city of seven million with a huge industrial zone of factories and electronic centers. Working through PREL, Wal-Mart established Shenzhen as its global sourcing headquarters, ordering low-price goods and establishing its own in-house brands reflecting the tastes of its customers (as collected and analyzed by its sophisticated electronic tracking systems). Wal-Mart estimates that it imports $15 billion of Chinese goods yearly. Other analysts estimate the number could be as high as $30 billion.

"Wal-Mart and China are a joint venture," says Gary Gereffi, a Duke University professor who studies global supply chains. "And both are determined to dominate the US economy as much as they can in a wide range of industries... Wal-Mart gives Chinese suppliers the specifications for Wal-Mart products. And they teach those suppliers to meet those specifications. They have to do with price. They have to do with quality. They have to do with delivery schedule. So, in a sense, Chinese suppliers learn how to export to the US market through large retailers like Wal-Mart." (Frontline)
Wal-Mart has some 6,000 global suppliers, as many as 4,800 of which are in China. It imports more than half of its non-food products. Since Chinese workers typically earn 50 cents an hour, the value of Wal-Mart's Chinese connection is not hard to calculate.

In response to criticisms about the loss of businesses and jobs to Asian countries, Wal-Mart responds that it buys merchandise and services from more than 68,000 US suppliers—who in turn employ some 3.5 million Americans. (

Certainly Wal-Mart is not the only U.S.-based company that has exported most of its jobs to Asia. Home Depot, Nike, Toys 'R Us, and Hewlett Packard—to name just a few—have also been moving operations overseas. Wal-Mart Vice President Ray Bracey, commenting on cost pressures and the resulting off-shoring of American jobs and businesses, speaks of a "sad truth" and "a sad...situation," but clearly, in his view, an inevitable one. (Frontline)


For discussion

1. What questions do students have? How might they be answered?
2. Why do you think Wal-Mart has been Fortune magazine's "most admired company in America"? What does the reading tell you about why Wal-Mart has been so successful?
3. Why would The Nation assert that "corporate crime" is an essential ingredient in Wal-Mart's business strategy?
4. What information is Wal-Mart able to gather about its customers? How? Why is this information so valuable to Wal-Mart?
5. Explain: "Wal-Mart lives in a world of supply and command instead of a world of supply and demand."
6. What are the advantages to Wal-Mart of its huge business with China? What are the advantages to China?
7. How does Wal-Mart answer criticisms about its outsourcing jobs and business to China?



Wal-Mart, its associates, and the "keep out" sign

Part One:

Wal-Mart and its associates

"I don't think Wal-Mart's good for America," Jon Lehman, a former manager for six Wal-Mart stores, has concluded. "I think the average person that you run into in a Wal-Mart store may say: 'Yeah, I love this place because look at the stuff I can get. Look at the cheap prices.' But there's a cost for these low prices, and many people don't realize that."

All the buying may temporarily be good for the economy, says Lehman, but we need to "look behind that yellow smiley face and see what's really happening to workers....that poor guy making $15, $16 an hour, now he's [going to be] making a fraction of that, $7, $8 an hour, working 32 hours a week; a meager health care plan that he's got to pay for now, token health care plan; no pension; no future. There's a revolving door at Wal-Mart—workers coming in, seeing the reality of it. They've been duped by the yellow smiley face many times." (Frontline)

A company that makes billions in profits yearly would generally be considered a great success. But Wal-Mart has plenty of critics. Critics like Lehman who challenge Wal-Mart's treatment of its workers (the company calls them "associates"). Critics who argue that "corporate crime is "an integral part of its business strategy." Critics who don't want Wal-Mart in their neighborhood.

Some facts:

  • A Wal-Mart sales clerk's average pay was $8.50 an hour in the spring of 2004. That's about $14,000 a year and $1,000 below the federal government's definition of the poverty level for a family of three.
  • Fewer than half of Wal-Mart's workers can afford even the least expensive health care benefits offered by the company. Part-time workers have to wait two years to apply for those benefits, which do not cover spouses.
  • To cut costs, Wal-Mart chronically understaffs its stores. Jed Stone, a store manager from 1983 to 1991, says he had to break company rules by having employees work 50 hours a week or the store couldn't keep its shelves stacked or serve customers properly. Some workers say store managers pressure them to clock out and keep working without overtime pay.
  • About 50 percent of Wal-Mart's workers in 2003 had left the store by the end of the year. At Costco that same year the figure was 24 percent.
  • Every Wal-Mart store manager has a copy of the company's "Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free," which states, "Staying union free is a full-time commitment." The "toolbox" includes information about a hotline for getting in touch with company headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, the minute a manager thinks there's danger of union activity. A corporate jet with a team of union-busters is shortly on the way to run compulsory anti-union employee meetings. When, somehow, workers in a Texas Wal-Mart meat-cutting department formed a union, the company's response was to shut down the department and fire its members. When the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wal-Mart's actions illegal, the company appealed the decision. (All of the above examples in the New York Review, 12/16/04)
  • According to the AFL-CIO, there are currently well over 100 charges against Wal-Mart for unfair labor practices.
  • Wal-Mart agreed, 1/6/05, to pay $135,540 to settle U.S. Labor Department charges that it violated child labor laws in 24 locations, most of them in Connecticut. The violations involved the operation of such dangerous machinery as chain saws and cardboard balers by workers under age 18. In 2000 Maine fined Wal-Mart $205,650 for child labor law violations in all 20 of its stores in the state.

Among Wal-Mart's answers to such charges:

  • It plans to create 100,000 new jobs in the US this year. One result will be additional opportunities for promotion from within.
  • The average wage for full-time hourly store associates is almost twice the minimum wage.
  • Wal-Mart benefits, including health insurance, are available to full- and part-time associates.
  • Wal-Mart also offers employees a profit-sharing 401(k) plan, merchandise discounts, company-paid life insurance, vacation pay, and pay differential for those in military service (full-page ad in the New York Times and other newspapers, 1/13/05)
  • As for its antiunion policy, Wal-Mart's view is that the company treats its workers fairly and that a union would only create unnecessary conflict. (For further perspective from Wal-Mart, see

Wal-Mart and corporate crime

The federal National Labor Relations Board found that Wal-Mart repeatedly violated workers' right to organize unions and engaged in illegal surveillance and intimidation of employees who supported a union. Wal-Mart employees have filed class-action lawsuits against the company in most states, charging they were forced to do unpaid overtime work. In most cases even when Wal-Mart was found to be guilty of the charges, it has had to pay only a few thousand dollars in penalties. In 2001, though, a Colorado court required Wal-Mart to deliver $50 million in unpaid wages to 69,000 employees for overtime work.

Systematic discrimination against women in pay and promotions is the issue in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the largest class-action lawsuit in history. It is named for Betty Dukes, one of six women who filed the suit in 2001 on behalf of 1.6 million female company workers, past and present. The lawsuit states that while 65 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly employees are women, only 33 percent of its managers are.

Specific complaints:

  • Betty Dukes is a store greeter near San Francisco who has worked for 10 years at Wal-Mart. She charges that she has repeatedly asked about opportunities for promotion. But "opportunities seemed to come and go, positions were filled," for jobs that were not posted. "No one would talk with you," said Dukes. ( New York Times , 6/23/04)
  • Claudia Renati, a marketing specialist at a California Wal-Mart, was told by her boss that she couldn't enter a management training course unless she could repeatedly lift 50-pound bags of dog food.
  • Stephanie Oldie, an assistant store manager in California, said she discovered that a male assistant manager was making $23,000 a year more than she was. "When I went to the district manager, he first goes, 'Stephanie, that assistant manager has a family and two children to support.' I told him, 'I'm a single mother and I have a 6-month-old child to support.'" ( New York Times, 6/23/04)

Wal-Mart vice president Bob McAdam told PBS's Frontline, "Last year we promoted 9,000 of our hourly assistants to management positions," but he didn't say what proportion of them were women. Wal-Mart insists that it always operates legally and does not discriminate against women, though it concedes that there may be cases in which individual stores violate company rules.

On October 23, 2003, federal agents raided 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states. They discovered 250 undocumented immigrants working as janitors. In its defense, the company said the workers had been hired by an agency it contracts with to provide legal workers. However, federal investigators had wiretapped conversations revealing that Wal-Mart executives knew who the workers were. In 1998 and 2001, federal raids at company stores resulted in the arrests of 102 undocumented immigrants.

On March 18, 2005, federal prosecutors and immigration officials announced that Wal-Mart had agreed to pay $11 million for hiring undocumented immigrants.Officials said they were not bringing criminal charges because Wal-Mart was cooperating with the government. Michael Garcia, an assistant secretary with the Department of Homeland Security, said the case "breaks new ground not only because this is a record dollar amount for a civil immigration settlement, but because this settlement requires Wal-Mart to create an internal program to ensure future compliance with immigration laws...." That program includes training store managers not to hire undocumented immigrants. ( New York Times, 3/19/05)

Some people feel Wal-Mart plays such a destructive role in the world that they can't in good conscience shop there. But these boycotters are vastly outnumbered by people like Carolyn Goree, who wrote to a Minnesota newspaper that when she shops at most stores, $200 fills only a bag or two, but at Wal-Mart, "I come out with a cart full top and bottom. How great that feels." Goree, a single mom, was angry that the newspaper had complained about Wal-Mart workers' low annual salaries: "Come on. Is $15,000 really that bad of a yearly income? I'm a single mom and when working out of my home, I made $12,000 tops and that was with child support." (Liz Featherstone, "Down and Out in Discount America," The Nation, 1/3/05) Not surprisingly, there are many people like Goree—including many Wal-Mart workers themselves—who love Wal-Mart because they can't afford more than its low prices.

A Wal-Mart critic, Liz Featherstone, thinks that "to effectively battle corporate criminals like Wal-Mart, the public must be engaged as citizens, not merely as shoppers." She argues that citizens should pressure politicians to speak out against Wal-Mart's abuses and get them to push for policies that challenge corporate greed. She praises labor and community groups in Chicago that "prevented Wal-Mart from opening a store on the city's South Side, in part by pushing through an ordinance that would have forced the retailer to pay Chicago workers a living wage."

Part Two:

Wal-Mart and the "keep out" sign

"'Big box' stores will eliminate more jobs than they create, according to a report of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois, October 2004. This is one of the arguments used to fight Wal-Mart's efforts to open new stores. Residents of Inglewood, California, approved a referendum keeping Wal-Mart out of their community. Wal-Mart opponents argued that the store would drive out businesses with good union jobs and replace them with low-wage, non-union jobs.

"An associate would come in and say, 'I can't afford to take my child to the doctor... ,'" said Jon Lehman, the one-time Wal-Mart store manager. "Many times I would take the worker down to the United Way in my truck... I thought I was doing a good thing at the time. Now when I look back, I think, 'Wow...the company doesn't care enough about its workers to pay them a living wage and to help them with their medical costs... " Lehman is now working to unionize Wal-Mart workers. (Frontline)

Increasingly, state governments are discovering that they are subsidizing Wal-Mart with taxpayers' money. A Georgia study has found that 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in the state's health care program at a cost to taxpayers of $10 million.

The same study describes a North Carolina hospital where nearly one-third of 1,900 patients were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid, a state-supported program, and an additional 16 percent were company employees with no insurance at all.

Health care expenses of Wal-Mart employees, according to an August 2004 University of California (Berkeley) study, are costing California $32 million a year of taxpayer money.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Sarah Clark said that 29 percent of company employees are ineligible for coverage because of strict eligibility requirements and a 44 percent worker turnover. She also said that two-thirds of Wal-Mart associates are senior citizens, college students, or second-income providers, which means that many get health care coverage from Medicare, parents, or a spouse.

In 2003, Wal-Mart announced it was planning 40 California supercenters where customers could buy everything from tires to tomatoes. Safeway and other supermarket chain stores in California said they could not compete with Wal-Mart unless they made large cuts in their workers' pay and benefits. Without cuts, a Wal-Mart sales clerk would earn $8.50 an hour while a Safeway clerk doing the same job would make $13 an hour—and receive health care benefits. In October 2003, 70,000 unionized supermarket workers went on strike in an effort to resist these cutbacks. But after five months, the workers' union called off the strike and agreed to a settlement: New workers would receive much lower wages and benefits than current employees, establishing a temporary "two-tier" system of wages. As current workers leave or retire, the old upper tier will be eliminated, eventually leaving all workers with lower wages and benefits.

The disappearance of good jobs and the profitable businesses that made them possible, the growing size of the taxpayer subsidy for Wal-Mart's low-paid workers, and Wal-Mart's role in driving down pay and benefits explain why major cities like Oakland and Chicago have opted to keep Wal-Mart out.

Wal-Mart says that because of its constant need for goods of all kinds it creates many jobs, including those it creates when it opens a new store. As for its role in driving companies out of business, Wal-Mart maintains that is the price of progress and has always been an inevitable part of the story of American business.

For discussion

1. What questions do students have? How might they be answered?

2. Why do you suppose Wal-Mart calls its employees "associates"?

3. Is Wal-Mart good for America? Why or why not?

4. What do you think of:

  • Jon Lehman's views?
  • Sarah Clark's explanation of Wal-Mart's health care policies?
  • Liz Featherstone's argument that citizens should pressure politicians about "Wal-Mart's abuses"?

5. Featherstone also argues that we are citizens, not just shoppers, or consumers, and we "must be engaged as citizens." How would you define a "consumer"? A "citizen"? What differences are there between consumers and citizens?

6. Do "citizens" have an obligation to protest Wal-Mart's labor policies? If so, what might they do? If not, why not?

7. Should workers be free to organize and join unions? Why or why not?

8. How do you suppose Wal-Mart would respond to the women's specific charges of discrimination?

9. How do you evaluate charges that states are subsidizing Wal-Mart?


Additional Suggested Classroom Activities


If students have friends or relatives who work or have worked for Wal-Mart, perhaps these people would be open to an interview about their experience. Students should prepare questions for an interview, know how to take notes, and make a report to the class either in a written or oral report.

A "Fish Bowl" on Wal-Mart

The issue for a group of students to consider is as follows: You have just learned that Wal-Mart is planning to build a supercenter selling goods and groceries in your home town or neighborhood . What would be your attitude? Why? What, if anything, would you do to support or oppose the new Wal-Mart? (New York City students might want to learn what they can in advance about Wal-Mart's plans in Queens.)

In a "fish bowl," five to seven students sit in a circle in the middle of the room to begin the conversation. It is important to ensure that the group reflects different points of view. Everyone else makes a circle of chairs around the fish bowl. But only students in the fish bowl can speak. Each has a couple of minutes to present a point of view on the question. The teacher then asks for clarifying questions and further comments. After 15 minutes or so students from the larger circle can be invited to replace students in the fish bowl by tapping one of the latter on the shoulder and moving into that student's seat.

For writing

Write a well-organized essay, using one of the following two sentences for your opening:

"I don't think Wal-Mart's good for America."
— Jon Lehman, former Wal-Mart store manager

"I think Wal-Mart is good for America."
— economist Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute

For further inquiry

  • Dukes v. Wal-Mart
  • The Inglewood, California referendum; other rejections of Wal-Mart in Oakland, Bakersfield, and Chicago
  • The October 2003 strike by Safeway and other supermarket workers in California
  • Federal laws regarding workers' rights to organize and join unions; the National Labor Relations Board
  • The bar code
  • China's connection with Wal-Mart; Chinese workers' conditions, pay and benefits


A major source for these materials is "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" a program televised by Frontline on PBS in November 2004. Access to the program, the interviews on it, and many associated links is available at

For Wal-Mart's official view of its activities, see and other Wal-Mart sites.

For union criticisms of Wal-Mart, see afl/


This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: