Where would Jesus shop

Where would Jesus shop this Christmas?

It sure wouldn't be at Wal Mart, that's all I'm saying.

Ok, so after we good Evangelicals get finished complaining about how stores and schools are banning "Merry Christmas, what do we do? We hope in our cars and drive to Wal Mart, whose business practices are not very Christian, as Sojourners put it earlier this year.

Wal-Mart expects to reap $1 billion in sales of "Christian" merchandise in 2003, only the doorstep of a much larger market. Evidently, Christians are shopping at Wal-Mart. But what are we buying, when a dollar saved in the store is another dollar squeezed from the life of "one of the least of these?"

Preachers and Sunday school teachers need to be asking Christians more about what our dollars support, and in Wal-Mart’s case, who’s paying for consumer "savings." A favorite preacher of mine says, "If you want to know what people care about, look in their checkbook" (or Visa statement, as the case may be). Our purchases ought to reflect deeper values than just "always low prices." Christians have asked Wal-Mart for cleaner magazine and CD content. Perhaps it’s time to demand cleaner corporate character as well.

Worse of all, Wal-Mart was singled out as one of the worst offenders in the original "Toys of Misery" report from the National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch. You can get the 2001 report here and the 2004 report here. It's ugly stuff, 20 hour work days, seven days a week at times, all for 16.5 cents a hour. Not by Wal-Mart, of course, but from the Chinese suppliers they buy toys and from.

Here's a bit from the original report executive summary:

When you go into a Wal-Mart or a Toys ‘R’ Us store to purchase Harry Potter or Disney’s Monsters Inc., Mattel’s Barbie, Sesame Street, Hasbro’s Star Wars or Pokemon do you ever think of the young women in China forced to work 16 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 12 midnight, seven days a week, 30 days a month, for months on end, for wages of 17 cents an hour? Workers forced to work overtime, but cheated of their pay? Do you ever imagine women working all day long in 104-degree temperatures, handling toxic glues, paints and solvents, women fainting, nauseous, sick to their stomachs? Women housed 16 to a dorm room and trying to get by on four hours of sleep a night? Workers whose bodies ache, who are exhausted from racing through the same operations 3,000 times a day, day in and day out? Women who are fired when they get sick? Workers who have no rights, and who--if they try to defend their most basic, internationally recognized human and worker rights, will be immediately fired and blacklisted? Workers who are worn out and used up by the time they reach 30 or 35 years of age and are removed to be replaces with another crop of young teenagers?

It's still that bad, according to a
recent report in the LA Times.
Even a company like Mattel, which the Times says has tried to make improvements, still has factories that seem more like sweatshops than anything else.

Here's the rub:

For a company like Mattel, it is a tricky proposition figuring out what its obligation to workers -- as well as to society at large -- should be.

"Is it Mattel's responsibility to determine and pay a living wage? I don't think so," said Walter, the company's quality assurance chief. "But should Mattel prompt a local government to determine what a reasonable wage is? We should have some impact on that."

The struggle between morality and profitability goes right to the top of the company.

"Do we want to make people's lives better? Absolutely," said Eckert, Mattel's CEO. "Do we want to unilaterally do things that make us uncompetitive and therefore our products don't sell and therefore nobody gets employed? No."

Morality versus and profitability--that's a dilema that ought to get some Christian attention this Christmas.

A quick update-- Sherry asked "I don't get it. Really. Why is Walmart evil because Mattel or Disney refuses to pay decent wages? If we're boycotting anyone, shouldn't it be Mattel or Disney or whomever?"

There's a good explantion of the influence that the cut-rate prices that retailers like Wal Mart have on toy manufacturers
in the archives of NPR's Worldview program---you can find it by going here and then clicking on December 21, 2001


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