Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Memo: Wal-Mart

Tales From the Big Box Boneyard: Group Launches Pre-Halloween Wal-Mart Horror Story Spooktacular

The folks over at Wakeup, a group dedicated to changing a number of the ways in which retailer Wal-Mart does business, is celebrating Halloween (which is Wednesday, October 31) with a new feature they call Tales From the Big Box Boneyard.

The group says "Wal-Mart and it's addiction to cheap, unsafe Chinese goods has been all over the news recently. This month, at least 40 people were sickened with the kind of tainted beef sold at Wal-Mart stores, prompting the second largest beef recall in history. Toxic chemicals like melamine have been found in Wal-Mart's pet food, and its shelves are stocked with lead-laced children's toys," the group says.

"It sounds like a cheap horror novel but, unfortunately, its all true," the group says on their website in introducing the Tales From the Big Box Boneyard feature. Further, they say "The situation is critical, and now is the perfect time of the year to spread the word. So, in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, and Wal-Mart's terrifying product safety record, we've decided to host a feature called Tales From the Big Box Boneyard.

Wakeup is encouraging consumers to write them at the website with their most disturbing Wal-Mart horror stories. After Halloween the group will feature what they deem to be five of the most "ghastly tales" (and their authors) on their website. Wal-Mart shoppers can post their comments/stories at a link on the website here.

The group says they aren't looking for anything specific in terms of the stories but "the more shocking, terrifying and stomach turning the better," they add. "It is Halloween after all, and we know there is no shortage of horror stories from the aisles of Wal-Mart," Wake up says. Ouch.

As an example of their assertion, the group has a dozen articles culled from recent newspapers posted on their website, which they say more than proves the point that there's no shortage of Wal-Mart product and other horror stories out there. Not all of the 12 stories the group has posted are about dangerous product purchases at Wal-Mart stores. Some involve political or other social issues as well.

We will share the group's first example with you. It's a product safety issue example, to say the least. Then you can go here if you want to read the other examples the group has posted on its website.

Below is one example from the group's website, taken from an article in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper (10-02-07). We've fact-checked the quotes we used below from the Wakeup website against the original Tribune article. We have corrected anything from the group's website that isn't properly attributed from the Tribune article. (See our note after the article quote below.)

From: Salt Lake Tribune, 10-02-07, "That's Not Ratatouille: Utah woman finds rodent head in her can of green beans." Story summary below:

"Earlier this month, a Utah woman was preparing lunch for her children when she noticed something peculiar floating in the green beans she had bought from Wal-Mart. It was the severed head of a mouse.

No, it's not Stephen King's remake of the Pixar classic. It actually happened to Marianne Watson. 'I'm quesy just talking about it,' she said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. 'Thank goodness it ended up on the top and not the bottom, so I didn't serve it [to my family].'

Now, her refrigerator is a makeshift morgue where she keeps the frozen head of the offending mouse, as the matter could take up to two years to be fully resolved.

Fair and Balanced notes:

>Wal-Mart spokeswoman Diesha Galbeth told the Tribune, "food safety is a top priority, and we are investigating this situation thoroughly. Our store has inspected similar product on our shelves and feel confident that this complaint is an isolated incident."

>The green beans, packed and marketed by Allen Canning, were in a can. As such Wal-Mart couldn't know there was a rodent head inside. Allen Canning is an American company and says the canned green beans in question were grown and canned in the U.S. and not in China or any other foreign country.

>Wal-Mart representatives have talked with Ms. Watson about the situation.

>Ms Watson says in the Tribune story she would consider shopping at Wal-Mart again, but doubts she would buy the Allen brand. "Until I'm reassured that it's just an isolated incident, I won't," (buy the Allen brand) she says. On their website, Wakeup has changed this quote (either by omission or intentionally) from the Tribune story.

On their website they print: "When asked if she would consider returning to Wal-Mart, Watson said, 'Until I'm reassured that it's just an isolated incident, I won't.' " That's not what Ms. Watson said to the Tribune, as our quote taken directly out of the Tribune story shows. In fact, the way Wakeup has changed it (either by omission or on purpose, we'll let you be the judge) changes the meaning of Watson's words. She said she would consider shopping at Wal-Mart again. Not that she won't, as the omission or changes on the website say.

Because of this omission or intentional quote change on the group's website, we checked all of the quotes we used above against the actual story in the Tribune. We've used only those quotes that we verified from the original Tribune article.

We suspect Wal-Mart would prefer something other than this feature from the group as a Halloween surprise. And, as our readers know, and what a quick "Wal-Mart" search in our blog "search box will show, is that we write positively about Wal-Mart often as well as being critical when we feel it's warranted.

We generally give the retailer high marks for its environmental initiatives, overall retail pricing structure, new focus on natural and organic foods and some other issues. However, we also aren't here to shill for anybody, and we don't. In the case(s) of it's Chinese imported products policy, its employee wages and benefits policy, and a number of other issues, we give Wal-Mart low grades. There's much room for improvement, and we take every opportunity to encourage the mega-retailer to do so.

In the case of the abundance of imported Chinese goods with lead content, we simply say to the retailer: "For heaven's sake use your huge buying power and position as the world's number one retailer to get the lead out." There's no excuse for so many lead-based products in Wal-Mart stores. If Chinese products have lead, just don't buy them and offer them for sale. Imagine if a U.S-based manufacturer tried to sell a Wal-Mart buyer a product, such as a child's toy, that contained lead? We think Wal-mart would likely ban that vendor from its Arkansas buying offices once the lead content in the product was discovered.

We aren't a member of nor do we support or not support Wakeup We're neutral on the group. We're merely writing about their side of the issue and balancing it with Wal-Mart's side as we did in the case of the rodent head in the canned greens beans story above.

In our view zealots on either the left or the right are very seldom right. We prefer reasoned discussion and thought. (We aren't saying anyone here is a zealot by the way.) As such we like to bring both sides of an issue to the table when possible. Wakeup has some very valid points (but also tends to criticize Wal-Mart using a very broad brush overall), and sometimes it takes a feature like the group's Tales From the Big Box Boneyard to stimulate action and get a response from a huge corporation. As such, we hope the group is willing to enter into a reasonable dialogue with Wal-Mart rather than merely bash the retailer if that opportunity arises. Also, we think Wal-Mart should be open to talking with the group if that conversation can be open, civil and reasonable.

Meanwhile, we expect there will be some interesting stories posted on Wakeup's website after Halloween. In closing, I hope we don't seem too trite after writing this piece to, in the spirit of Halloween, say: "Trick or Treat."

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