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Walmart At 50: Website Serves As A Forum For Critics Of All Stripes

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 05/12/2012 10:25 am Updated: 05/12/2012 10:48 am

It's like YouTube, if every video were about Walmart.

Nearly three weeks after Walmart was accused of bribing government officials in Mexico, a new website, Walmart at 50, is airing all manner of grievances about the company. Launched by labor groups Making Change at Walmart and Our Walmart in connection with the company's 50th anniversary, the site allows anyone with access to a computer to share their own photos, videos and Walmart-related stories. "Change Walmart to Rebuild America!" the site declares.

But while most of the testimonials are what one would expect on a labor organization's site (Walmart workers and union members deride the company's low pay and lack of benefits), the site is also peppered with commentary from shoppers griping about prices and critics of goods made overseas -- plus plenty of photos of pets and flowers.

"I am old enough to remember the original creator of the Walmart stores," wrote Beverly Smith of Cottonwood, Ariz., apparently referring to Walmart founder Sam Walton, who died in 1992. "He was fair and NOT GREEDY. And now we MISS HIM."

Allan Chamberlin of Joplin, Mo., was more concerned about store prices. "It seams like every time I go to WalMart the same thing that I got 2 [or] 3 days before has gone up A little," he complained. "But they say no it did not."

The new site has even captured the praise of one Walmart supporter: "I worked for Wal-Mart for three and a half years," wrote Jackalynn Bair of Houston, not afraid to go against the grain. "I loved working with my fellow workers, and working with the customers."

This is more in keeping with the types of comments that one can find on the company's own 50th anniversary site, named simply Walmart50.com, which also invites testimonials by workers.

But Making Change at Walmart's director, Daniel Schlademan, says a diverse group of commenters is exactly what his group is hoping its new website will attract. "Walmart's impact is so dramatic," he said. "There are so many people with stories about Walmart."

"We're often accused of being Walmart bashers but the reality is we're trying to make Walmart a better company," Schlademan said.

Some of the testimonies were collected by a team of Making Change at Walmart representatives who since mid-April have been driving a Dodge Nitro SUV across the country to hold meetings and interview Walmart shoppers and sales associates from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh -- and everywhere in between. The trip began before the bribery scandal became news.

As America's largest retailer and private employer with 3,878 stores in the United States alone, Walmart has long been the subject of a wide range of folklore, ranging from the ordinary to the extreme and wacky, as reporters have chronicled. Over the years, there's been a viral booty-shaking video from Louisiana about picking up women in Walmart, a news report of a woman's discovery of teeth in a wallet for sale, and more recently a tale of a customer in Marshall County, Tenn., spotting a gopher rat in a store's bread aisle.

Since The New York Times first published in late April its report about the company's alleged bribing of Mexican officials, Walmart has become a magnet for a wide array of criticism. Everyone from union members to pension fund officials, and city officials to congressmen have decried various aspects of the company's business practices, often drawing parallels between their concerns and the alleged activities in Mexico.

Although the activists launched the Walmart at 50 website and the road trip before word of the bribery allegations broke, "[The scandal] affirmed the project in our mind," Schlademan said.

Along the way, team members have stopped to project their collected videos on the sides of Walmart buildings for as long as store officials have allowed. This weekend, they will work with activist group Walmart Free NYC to broadcast them on the sides of prominent buildings in New York City's five boroughs. The road trip will hit several more cities before concluding next month in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart will hold its shareholder meeting.

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