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Walmart to Chileans: 'We Can Only Spare A Dime'

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"They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?"
(Yip Harburg, lyrics, "Brother Can You Spare A Dime")

My prayers go out to the Chilean people during this time of crisis. I also feel it's incredibly important in light of Walmart's announcement yesterday that they would be donating a million dollars in aid, to provide some perspective on this "corporatocracy" in action.

On January 23, 2009, barely a year and a half ago Walmart's press release touted "Walmart Confirms Successful Tender Offer for D&S -- Investment provides major foothold in key South American market." While most North Americans, financial analysts and journalists did not take note of this announcement, those of us tired of being "hoodwinked" certainly did.

D&S at the time of the acquisition was Chile's largest food retailer. Walmart's Executive vice president and CEO of the Americas, Craig Herkert said, "Partnering with D&S, with its strong brands, and its position as Chile's largest food retailer, is an important step in implementing Walmart's international strategy. We continue to focus on portfolio optimization, global leverage and winning in every market."

Walmart, because of this acquisition, now owns 58.2 percent of the issued and outstanding shares of D&S, while the Chilean owners now only hold 40.1 percent, with the remainder 1.7 percent being held by the public.

In both my books, Hoodwinked and The Secret History of the American Empire, I've noted Walmart as a one of the companies that has avoided a true commitment to environmentally or socially responsible operations.

Walmart, Monsanto, De Beers, Exxon Mobile, Adidas, Ford, and GE are just some of the companies that exploit labor forces and destroy the environment in the name of enhancing their "portfolio optimization, global leverage" and greed-driven bottom lines.

When I read the announcement of Walmart pledging an initial one million dollars to aid grief-stricken Chile on Saturday, I could not help recalling the lyrics of "Brother Can You Spare A Dime." Written in 1931, today it continues to herald the great failure of the predatory form of capitalism I write about in Hoodwinked.

In February 2010, Walmart posted a record profit for the fourth quarter. According to the New York Times (Profit Rises at Walmart, but Outlook is Clouded, NYTIMES 2-19-2010) , during the quarter ending in January, Walmart posted a profit of $4.63 billion or $1.23 a share, up from $3.79 billion, or 96 cents a share, a year earlier. The story notes, "Almost all of the increase was because of the international division."

It strikes me as nothing but manipulative that a company whose profits are so incredibly high, chose to spare less than their equivalent of a dime to the people of Chile during their time of need. This is the same company that exploits the Chilean labor force and disrupts their environment.

Thomas Paine wrote, "We have it in our power to begin the world all over again." Whenever devastating events happen in countries like Haiti and Chile, let us each commit to assuring that the beginning of the rebuilding is done with only the people in mind, and not solely to benefit the corporations.

What can you do? Send an email to Walmart to let them know that you do not intend to buy from them until they become truly committed to a sustainable, just, and peaceful world. When you and I, and a few of our friends, send such emails the message is impossible for them to ignore. The market place is a voting both. We can use it effectively.

Together let us contemplate the possibilities of a new economy based upon producing things that people actually need, and goods and services that serve the earth and offer hope for the future.

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