Despite its reputation for signaling the end of the "mom and pop" shop, Walmart may be embracing business model that has some small-scale suppliers doing a double-take. Walmart will begin selling one-of-a-kind handicrafts made by artisans in developing countries online at Walmart.com. The non-profit group, Aid To Artisans (ATA), has reached out to Walmart to include their organization as part of a new plan to bring fair trade to the retail juggernaut.
The Hartford, Conneticut-based Aid To Artisans has been working with a group of Wayuu artisans in Colombia to develop a line of cup and bottle sleeves woven from colorful yarn, which it hopes Walmart will include in its online store. This may be more realistic than it sounds after the Walmart Foundation, the charitable branch of the company, bestowed a $490,000 grant to ATA earlier this year. ATA hopes that this previous involvement with Walmart could improve the chances for this new venture, but official word is not out yet. "We have reached out to Walmart. We inquired and are waiting for a response," president of ATA, Alfred Espinosa told the Hartford Courant. "We are squarely in the target group they're trying to benefit," he went on to say.
ATA has previously helped artisans sell their products to Crate & Barrel, Anthropologie and Coldwater Creek, but this would be their largest retailer to date. "This would be a good fit and it would strengthen the work sponsored by the Walmart Foundation," Espinosa said.
"We have a relationship with them but we have not made any decision related to them," Deisha Galberth, a Walmart spokeswoman, said to the Courant. Despite the lack of an official announcement regarding ATA, by 2016 Walmart plans to offer up 500 producats made by nearly 20,000 woman artisans from 20 different countries.
Still, Walmart's reputation, stemming from the largest gender discrimination suit ever filed in the U.S., has many skeptics asking what the real intentions of such a venture could be. "They'll make some money with this, but I suspect that's not the main point — it's public relations to soften its image among urban liberals," Nelson Lichtenstein, author of "The Retail Revolution: How Wal-mart Created a Brave New World of Business"
Initial public reaction at the West Hartford Ten Thousand Villages—a fair trade store specializing in handicrafts—may indicate that fair trade retailers need not worry about losing customers to Walmart. "First of all I don't shop at Walmart, and I'm not sure what Walmart's agreement is with these women," shopper Sarah de Loizaga said at the Ten Thousand Villages store. "I like this store, I know what their mission is," she added.
Another shopper at Ten Thousand Villages, Kurt Moyer, was slightly more critical of the news. "I think it's offensive. Walmart has ruined many lives. They've very exploitive of their workers. They drive prices down and drive jobs overseas. They're only out for financial gain," he said.