Wal-Mart is now the world's biggest corporation, having passed ExxonMobil for the top slot. It hauls off a stunning $220 billion a year from We the People (more in revenues than the entire GDP of Israel and Ireland combined).
Wal-Mart cultivates an aw-shucks, we're-just-folks-from-Arkansas image of neighborly small-town shopkeepers trying to sell stuff cheaply to you and yours. Behind its soft homespun ads, however, is what one union leader calls "this devouring beast" of a corporation that ruthlessly stomps on workers, neighborhoods, competitors and suppliers.
Despite its claim that it slashes profits to the bone in order to deliver "Always Low Prices," Wal-Mart banks about $7 billion a year in profits, ranking it among the most profitable entities on the planet.
Of the 10 richest people in the world, five are Waltons—the ruling family of the Wal-Mart empire. S. Robson Walton is ranked by London's "Rich List 2001" as the wealthiest human on the planet, having sacked up more than $65 billion in personal wealth and topping Bill Gates as No. 1.
Wal-Mart and the Waltons got to the top the old-fashioned way—by roughing people up. The corporate ethos emanating from the Bentonville headquarters dictates two guiding principles for all managers: Extract the very last penny possible from human toil, and squeeze the last dime from every supplier.
With more than one million employees (three times more than General Motors), this far-flung retailer is the country's largest private employer, and it intends to remake the image of the American workplace in its image—which is not pretty.
Yes, there is the happy-faced "greeter" who welcomes shoppers into every store, and employees (or "associates," as the company grandiosely calls them) gather just before opening each morning for a pep rally, where they are all required to join in the Wal-Mart cheer: "Gimme a 'W!'" shouts the cheerleader; "W!" the dutiful employees respond. "Gimme an A!'" And so on.
Behind this manufactured cheerfulness, however, is the fact that the average employee makes only $15,000 a year for full-time work. Most are denied even this poverty income, for they're held to part-time work. While the company brags that 70 percent of its workers are full-time, at Wal-Mart "full time" is 28 hours a week, meaning they gross less than $11,000 a year.
Health-care benefits? Only if you've been there two years; then the plan hits you with such huge premiums that few can afford it—only 38 percent of Wal-Marters are covered.