Wal-Mart always under attack, always

In recent years, Wal-Mart has been in defense mode in both courtrooms and the court of public opinion following a barrage of accusations of unfair treatment of its workers that cite poor wages and an unwillingness to let females move into upper-level positions.

The latest in the long line of Wal-Mart bashing is a new documentary titled Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices by director Robert Greenwald.

Behind Greenwald’s film is the aim to present an expose of Wal-Mart as a greedy corporation that does not really care about the well-being of its employees. However, by looking at previews for the movie, it is unclear of the tone of the piece: serious or mocking?

One of the trailers for the anti-Wal-Mart documentary, labeled as a parody commercial, makes it unclear at first if the film is a serious, hard-hitting look into the injustices brought on by the retail giant or a satirical movie intended to make fun of the stereotypical accusations brought against Wal-Mart. It features a fake Wal-Mart employee claiming essentially that the company encouraged her to take government handouts.

There are further instances of ambiguity in the documentary’s movie trailers. In a more serious-minded trailer, it says that the chain is “5,000 stores – and growing.”

The figure must reflect stores worldwide, but that is not stated on the movie’s Web site www.walmartmovie.com. In an article in Tuesday’s New York Times, it says that there are “3,600 Wal-Mart stores in the U.S.”

Wal-Mart looks to debunk myths portrayed in Greenwald’s trailer with a three-minute video on the Web site www.walmartfacts.com.

Among the myths, said the Web site, are “missteps (that) include claiming Wal-Mart forced the closure of a Middlefield, Ohio, hardware store, when, in fact, the store closed before Wal-Mart opened its doors, and the hardware store has since reopened under new ownership.”

What Greenwald’s film may lack in facts, it makes up in sentiment, featuring interviews with former Wal-Mart employees and citizens of towns adversely affected by Wal-Mart moving in.

According to the Times, the movie “features whistleblowers who describe Wal-Mart managers cheating workers out of overtime pay and encouraging them to seek state-sponsored health care when they cannot afford the company’s insurance.”

The movie, and other recent bad press, has Wal-Mart worried enough to beef up its public relations.

Wal-Mart’s public relations team, fueled by the firm Edelman, has come out with a DVD, Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People Crazy.

Looking to save face with American consumers, Wal-Mart moved into action by making this response film and debunking myths in Greenwald’s movie previews. They do not want to lose profits by losing faith with consumers. After all, how can the company that rolls back prices be so bad?

The films released by both camps have an agenda behind them and must be viewed with that in mind when making decisions about the ethical practices of one of America’s largest retailers.