Sunday, July 09, 2006

Is Target as Bad as Wal-Mart?

From the leftist Alternet, a discussion about whether big-box chain Target is as bad as its even larger rival Wal-Mart.
Shopping in a Target store, you know you’re not in Wal-Mart. But the differences may be mostly skin deep.

Targets are spaciously laid out and full of attractive displays and promotions. While many people associate Wal-Mart with low-income, rural communities perhaps dominated by a prison or power plant, life-size photos throughout Target stores remind you that their customers are a lively, beautiful cast of multi-cultural hipsters.

“Their image is more upscale, more urban and sophisticated, sort of a wannabe Pottery Barn,” said Victoria Cervantes, a hospital administrator and documentary-maker in Chicago who regularly shops at Target. “I’m not sure if their customers really are more upscale. But that’s the image they’re going for. They have a very good PR campaign.”

In contrast to this image, however, critics say that in terms of wages and benefits, working conditions, sweatshop-style foreign suppliers, and effects on local retail communities, big box Target stores are very much like Wal-Mart, just in a prettier package.
The author goes on to cite the usual left-wing litany about poor pay, bad diversity, sweatshops, lack of unionization and poor benefits.

For example:
  • A survey by the UFCW found that starting wages are similar in Targets and Wal-Marts — possibly higher overall at Wal-Marts - and that Target benefits packages are often harder to qualify for and less comprehensive. (Target’s media relations department refused to comment on its wages and benefits policies; individual wages and benefits policies are not included in their annual report.)
  • Meanwhile a glance at labels on a few racks of stylish $20 cardigans and capri pants shows that, like Wal-Mart and most major clothing retailers, Target itself sources its products in India, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and other low-wage, developing countries.
  • An African-American employee at the flagship Roseville, Minn. store (who asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution), said she feels as if she constantly suffers racial discrimination. She said there are no black supervisors on the overnight shift she works. “There are a lot of Somalis working on the overnight shift, but no Somali team leader.” She said she is tired of young white “team leaders” repeatedly telling her to work faster or do things differently.
  • Workers generally complain about a pressurized and patronizing work atmosphere where they are constantly pressed to work harder and faster and at the same time to act cheery and invested in the store’s success. The company’s website boasts that workers will respond with “cheetah-like” speed within 60 seconds to customer calls on the red phones throughout the store.
We aren’t especially impressed with this list. The notion that unskilled workers should somehow make $15 dollars an hour and get good benefits simply doesn’t pass a market test. And even $7.50 per hour is a “living wage” if one factors in the policies (Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, Food Stamps, child care and rent subsidies) that government provides the working poor.

Government has abandoned the economically absurd notion that even marginally productive workers should have a job at high pay with full benefits, and decided to give help to people who can only command a modest wage — work being better than idleness.

Equally absurd is the idea that only American made (and union made at that) products should be sold in U.S. stores. If we expect foreigners to import our stuff, we have to import their stuff. And do the leftists believe that the average welfare mother can afford to pay for U.S. union made goods?

As for the black women who feels discriminated against: maybe she is a malcontent, or maybe she has a supervisor who is a jerk. No matter how well managed a huge retain chain, some supervisors are going to be jerks — although any business has a big incentive to fire supervisors who can’t get along with the workers.

This article does raise the question: why is Wal-Mart, and not Target, the object of so much vitriol from the left?

We think the reason has to be cultural. Wal-Mart is headquartered in the South — Arkansas to be precise. The stereotypical customers are from decidedly uncool groups — Southerners, working class whites, and blacks (the latter group being patronized by white liberals, but not considered cultural equals).

So the campaign against Wal-Mart is just a big battle in the Culture Wars.

It’s certainly not the result of any rational policy calculus.

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