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Thursday, July 18,2013

If you only watch your bottom line, you can't lift your head high

By Jim Hightower

Just for the hell of it, let’s re-imagine Walmart.

Imagine if the world’s most profitable retailer were to invest a tiny piece of its corporate bottom line in a global effort to elevate its human moral line. And imagine if Walmart did this by committing to a sincere, enforceable, legally-binding effort to ensure that its thousands of garment workers will no longer die in hellish factory fires and collapses of shoddily constructed sweatshops. Also, let’s imagine that the corporation’s executives reached out to union leaders and workers rights advocates to help make this safety effort more than a PR puff piece.

Oh, one more: Imagine that the executives and the multi-billionaire owners of Walmart felt good about this little gesture of common decency — maybe even took pride in it!

But, no. That wouldn’t be Walmart, would it?

Yet, while the retail giant flatly refuses to be part of it, such an effort at real reform is being made. Some 70 clothing chains — mostly major European stores — are having about 1,000 Bangladeshi factories that make apparel for them thoroughly checked by independent fire and safety inspectors. Working with unions and government officials, every dangerous facility will immediately be shut down, the companies will be responsible for financing safety renovations, and they will pay workers while their factories are closed for repair.

Walmart, Gap, Target and most other big American chains that profit enormously from the old slipshod factory system have pigheadedly rejected the comprehensive safety plan as too costly. Instead, trying the PR approach, they’ll soon propose a voluntary, non-binding, paint-and-patch “safety” scheme.

Just once, couldn’t Walmart do something just because it’s right? Who knows — doing the right thing might even prove profitable!

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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