After exposés on the Iraq War and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel, director Robert Greenwald turns his attention to US supermarket giants Wal-Mart in this scathing “Super Size Me”-style documentary. Founded in 1962 by the Walton family (no not that one) Wal-Mart has become the biggest corporation in the world, posting $11.2 billion profits in 2005.
However, this success has come at a great cost, as Greenwald clinically demonstrates with tales of employee mistreatment, Far Eastern sweatshops, environmental malpractice and the gradual destruction of small town America.
For example, the average salary required to feed a family of four in the US is $17,650, while the average full-time Wal-Mart worker earns $13,861 and can’t afford to pay for their employer’s overpriced health insurance package. In comparison, the CEO of Wal-Mart (Lee Scott) received over $27 million last year alone. Furthermore, the Walton family (all five of whom are in the top 20 richest people on earth) gave less than 1% of their yearly income to charity in 2004.
Bill Gates, who is worth half of their combined total, gave 58%. Wal-Mart are currently battling lawsuits in 31 states for “wage and hour abuses”, recently settled an $11 million suit for using illegal immigrants as cleaners, and cost US tax payers $1.5 billion last year in government subsidies (which were not offered to family stores or schools that really needed the money). Just as worrying is the news that the Waltons now have their eyes on the UK, and already own supermarket chain Asda.
When it comes to the extras, the best part of this impressive special features package is a 5-minute featurette entitled “Victory For Queen’s Market”. This newly-filmed coverage of the market’s store traders following the recent announcement by Asda to withdraw its redevelopment plans for the area provides an interesting postscript to one of the most worrying issues covered in the film.
Also included is an engaging commentary from Greenwald, and some reflections on the film from food campaigner Joanna Blythman, author of “Shopped and bad Food”.
Admittedly, Greenwald only provides one side of the argument and the film would have benefited from some Morgan Spurlock-style humour, but he does put forward a remarkably strong case against the global giants with a host staggering statistics.
Directed by: Robert Greenwald
Extras: Exclusive interview with director Robert Greenwald, Additional interviews with Wal-Mart staff, Victory For Queen’s Market, Extra scenes, Notes from Joanna Blythman, Theatrical trailer