Walmart and the common good

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010, at 3:01 pm

There is nothing better for ending poverty in the long-term than creating sustainable employment opportunities. Walmart is one of the world's best at creating jobs. In 2009, the world's second largest corporation reported nearly $400 billion in sales worldwide, according to its 2009 Sustainability Report. The company employs more than 2.1 million people worldwide, including more than 1.4 million in the United States. In its international operations, Walmart creates employment opportunities in situations where there are not very good employment alternatives. In 2008 alone, the retailer created approximately 63,000 jobs around the world including more than 33,000 stateside. Despite the social good of job creation, Walmart finds itself the object of attack for not doing more.

But creating jobs is one of the most significant ways companies can contribute to the common good because employment is the platform for wealth creation and allows people to meet their needs. Companies like Walmart are not morally obligated to do anything philanthropic outside of normal business operations, like give money to charities, because the company already meets the demands of justice by creating sustainable employment opportunities, and Walmart does so for 2.1 million people.

Walmart says it is primarily beholden to its customers, shareholders, and employees, and it does so by focusing on sustainability instead of random "social responsibility" activities. Sustainability allows the company to keep profitability as its primary objective while recognizing that in doing so the company provides customers what they need at a low price. Walmart's sustainability goals include using 100 percent renewable energy, creating zero waste, and selling products that sustain natural resources. These measures are not out of some moral duty. On the contrary, they make Walmart more profitable. Walmart CEO Mike Duke explains:

"The fact is sustainability at Walmart isn't a stand-alone issue that's separate from or unrelated to our business. It's not an abstract or philanthropic program. We don't even see it as corporate social responsibility. Sustainability is built into our business. It's completely aligned with our model, our mission and our culture. Simply put, sustainability is built into our business because it's so good for our business. Sustainability helps us deliver on our Every Day Low Price business model. Using more renewable energy, reducing waste and selling sustainable products helps us take costs out of the system."

Walmart is so serious about sustainability that it is now being criticized for being too sustainable and green. In the end, most Walmart customers don't care about Walmart's contribution to the common good through job creation and sustainability but simply enjoy purchasing products at low prices, especially at Christmas!

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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