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Wal-Mart Attacks Critical Documentary

26 Oct, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

It looks like Wal-Mart is making a pre-emptive strike at the upcoming Disinformation Co. documentary from director Robert Greenwald, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, due on DVD Nov. 15.

Wal-Mart sent out a packet of press release materials responding to what it says are factual mistakes it dissected in the film's trailer, outlining “three errors in three minutes.” The company also directed interested parties to a long list of criticisms of the director's prior projects, including non-documentary made-for-TV movies.

Wal-Mart also pointed toward another documentary that takes a different approach to the company, Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why that Drives Some People C-r-a-z-y, from independent filmmakers Ron and Robert Galloway. Hannover House will release it Nov. 15.

Based on the footage Wal-Mart has already seen, the company fully expects Greenwald to make more untrue claims, said Christi Gallagher, Wal-Mart spokesperson.

“Based on what we've seen so far, we don't anticipate it being fair or balanced,” she said. “And based on his previous movies, we don't think he has any credibility.”

Wal-Mart is highlighting the other documentary for people who are interested in “both sides of the story,” she said.

Gary Baddeley, president of the Disinformation Co., which is releasing the Greenwald doc, said the point of the film was not necessarily balance.

“It's a film that was intended to be part of a campaign that put pressure on Wal-Mart to change its business practices,” he said.

The film was created in cooperation with a long list of companies, organizations and individuals who have a litany of gripes with how the discount retailer does business.

In fact, these groups are helping push the title with “Wal-Mart Week,” which starts Sunday, Nov. 13. Each day punctuates a different theme for anti-Wal-Mart activists. (For more information on Wal-Mart Week, visit www.walmartmovie.com.)

“[The documentary] was not intended to be a balanced look in terms of pointing out positive things that Wal-Mart may be doing, but is intended to call them on the bad things they are doing,” Baddeley said. “The film is only symptomatic of what's going on with pressure groups of all shapes and sizes.”

In Wal-Mart's press packet, the retailer highlighted its charitable support of communities, the 1.2 million jobs it offers the country, the nearly-double minimum wage salaries of its workers, and the fact that the company offers access to health care and retirement benefits to all its workers.

Wal-Mart has been in the spotlight over the last few weeks with numerous announcements, including its moves to cut waste, reduce energy usage and offer lower-priced health care to its employees.

This is all a sign that the pressure is on, and that's a good thing, Baddeley said.

“The fact that Wal-Mart is taking the criticism so seriously, in terms of making these press items, putting out so many announcements, is a clear indication of that,” he said. “I do think it is pretty transparent that the timing of a lot of these announcements is intended to forestall criticism of the movie.”

In an internal memo on the subject of containing health care costs, Wal-Mart VP Susan Chambers noted the company's critics are hurting the company's reputation and that government entities are increasingly targeting Wal-Mart for pushing employee health care costs onto tax-funded programs like Medicaid.

The memo, distributed to Wal-Mart executives, stated the company's workforce is aging faster than the national average and that the retailer has a higher percentage of obese workers.

The answer? Rebalancing Wal-Mart's benefits portfolio and "design all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g. all cashiers do some cart-gathering)" to "dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."

The memo also proposes increasing the cost of covering spouses to discourage employees from using the program.

Additional reporting by Holly J. Wagner

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