Wal-mart? A humanitarian?

Wal-mart is one of the largest companies in the United States, playing a substantial role in the nation’s economy. Wal-mart is also widely regarded as one of the worst companies in America. Before this reputation constantly assigned to them, is it possible for Wal-mart to be considered “humanitarian” considering the crucial role in plays in the nations economy? An elemental approach to humanitarianism, stemming from Henry Dunant, factors in four different parts: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence (Wikipedia contributors). When applying these four parts to how Wal-mart fits into a fairly neo-liberal nation such as the United States, the idea doesn’t seem so radical.

Dr. Arcaro defines neo-liberalism as “the invisible hand of the market [being] what drives the economy” (SOC111). In a perfectly neo-liberal society, the government would have no effect on the region’s economy. There would be no monetary or fiscal policies, absolutely no governmental regulation, and Barack and Mitt would’ve had nothing to debate over; the economy would function completely within the limitations of private organizations (Martinez & Garcia). The United States isn’t completely neo-liberal, though its economy depends more so on private organizations than most other countries in the world. One of these private companies that feed a large portion of the economy is Wal-mart. Wal-mart’s number one consumers are lower-class citizens because of its low priced products. It can be considered as its own form of humanitarian aid because of how it contributes to the economy and helps those less fortunate.

How exactly does Wal-mart help those less fortunate? Findings indicate that counties with a Wal-mart show stronger economic growth and lower unemployment rates (Van Riper). Their low-price model has affected the economy as a whole, upping productivity and competition among other retail stores. All this growth over the years has fit right into the Dunantist model of humanitarianism as well. Wal-mart’s current slogan is “Save money. Live better.” All their products are sold at the expense of the consumer (humanity and impartiality). They haven’t taken sides in any national conflicts to date (neutrality) and are a privately owned company (independence).

Economically, Wal-mart fits into all the categories of Dunantist humanitarianism, so is it safe to call Wal-mart a humanitarian global citizen? No. You don’t earn the title “worst company in America” without a reason. While Wal-mart is often falsely accused of deflating a regions economy and not providing healthcare to the majority of their workers, these aren’t the only reasons it might earn this title. Wal-mart pays their employees unfairly low wages on average and often provides them with poor working conditions. More than just a few times, Wal-mart has known to disrespect its employees based on race and gender discrimination. For example, a number of past and present female employees claim to have been treated worse by being paid and promoted less than their male coworkers.

Wal-mart does a great service to the United States’ economy. It accounts for about six percent of food and retail sales throughout the nation and helps alleviate poverty and create jobs in poorer areas. But it is certainly not to be considered a humanitarian global citizen. Being humanitarian means weighing the outcomes of actions on a global scale, something that Wal-mart doesn’t do. They disrespect the environment as well as their employees, something a true humanitarian organization would try better not to do. After all, a real humanitarian organization should never earn the title of worst company in America. For Wal-mart, economy and efficiency comes first before humanity.


Arcaro, Tom. “Neo-liberalism” SOC111. 2013. Lecture.

“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web.

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying “No” to Wal-Mart?: Money and Mortality in Professional Humanitarianism.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Martinez, Elizabeth, Arnoldo Garcia, and National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “What Is Neoliberalism?” CorpWatch. RadicalDESIGNS, n.d. Web.

Riper, Tom Van. “Wal-Mart Is Good For You.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 Oct. 2008. Web.

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