Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Wal-Mart shoplifting vigilantism gone wild?
It appears as if there might be an unusually large amount of shootings and assaults at Wal-Mart and many of them seem to involve shoplifting. It is hard to tell why but it is worth considering the possibility that many of them might be the result of their training of these workers and Wal-Mart policies on how to handle the situation. In many cases the shoplifters have been killed but in others they have been the ones that pulled out guns and shot at others often over items that aren't that expensive like underwear or sand paper, although some other cases have been over more expensive items.
The following is just a small sample of the shootings or other incidents that have been happening at Wal-Mart; the most common season for these incidents might be during the Christmas season especially on Black Friday; but there are many others year round.
This is only a small sample of the shootings and other incidents that have been going on at Wal-Mart for a long time and the media rarely reports more than one or two at a time. They certainly don't try to report on any possible trend or attempt to figure out whether or not there is a higher rate of these incidents at Wal-Mart than elsewhere or why. However there have been at least a couple other attempts to study the subject including one internal study done by Wal-Mart itself; according to “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices.” (available at Wal-Mart shootings or Youtube) when this study showed that they could reduce crime to almost zero if they posted a roving guard in the parking lots instead of doing so they squashed the study so they could avoid the extra cost. In 2006 "Is Wal-Mart Safe?" a statistical study based on incidents in 2004 (PDF) was done and this found that they had four times as many incidents at Wal-Mart than their closest competitor, Target. In her book "Big-Box Swindle" Stacy Mithcell indicated that crime was a bigger problem in Bog-Box stores in general so Target is probably also a bigger problem than the small business that have been replaced by Big-Box stores. Furthermore the 2004 study cites several police chiefs across the country that have indicated that when Wal-Mart stores opened in their areas they had dramatic increases in demand from them and it was costing the tax payers much more money to attend these high rates of crime. In 2004 incidents at Wal-Mart store cost tax payers and estimated $77 million dollars to respond to close to one million incidents. This means that in addition to the tax incentives that big-box stores often receive to encourage them to locate in any particular location they may also receive another subsidy in the form of higher police costs that aren't covered by their property taxes. The small businesses that don't get these breaks often go out of business which leads to less money available for roads and schools in many local communities.
More recently Walmart Shootings Walmart. (Save money. Die faster.) began compiling stories on their blog about all the gun related incidents they could find at Wal-Mart stores. They apparently haven't gone back farther than 2012 but they have reported a surprisingly large number of incidents along with sources from a variety of media outlets around the country. They found that there were 54 shootings on Wal-Mart property in 2012 and the trend continues in 2013. This might not be a thorough statistical study but it does provide an enormous amount of information that would be helpful for such a study and it also provides a lot of additional information that might not be helpful statistically, but they could still be informative in other ways. Since the criteria for their blog is limited to gun related incidents there are clearly many other incidents that won't even be reported on their blog including a few that I cited which didn't involve guns but still led to serious injuries or crimes.
It might be tempting for many to assume that the at least when it comes to the shoplifters who have often been beat, shot or even hit by cars that they had what was coming to them. In that case it might be worth considering how many of the Wal-Mart executives have been treated when they have been implicated in activities that have been much worse, whether they are considered crimes or not, and they often have been. These activities include the long list of factory fiers that recently came back into the spotlight thanks to an exceptionally large one a few months ago that killed at least 112 workers and a more recent building collapse which Wal-Mart claims that hasn't been authorized to produce their products but that they're investigating to see if they're doing it without authorization. This is an amazing claim and a routine one for Wal-Mart when this happens; they have a history of getting caught so it seems to imply that they're essentially saying, "we haven't been caught yet so we deny it and if we do get caught we'll blame someone else," without actually using those words.
They've also been involved in bribery scandals sex discrimination scandals and many other things that anyone else would have been prosecuted for if they didn't have the political connections that the Walton family has. On top of that they've been using their market power to pressure their suppliers to cut cost which also reduces quality and they force their workers to compete with other workers around the world to suppress wages; while they avoid real competitions since the market is now dominated by oligarchies with the same motivational incentives that don't provide a significant amount of competition with each other.
What this has essentially led to is a dramatic escalation in poverty and lower standards of living for the majority of the public while the people running them reap enormous profits without providing good services. It is virtually guaranteed that one way or another this is also indirectly contributing to higher problems with shoplifting since many people that might not be inclined to do so have no way of supporting themselves due to a dysfunctional economic system; and at the same time the corporate sector, including Wal-Mart is doing an enormous amount of advertising to tempt people to buy stuff that they can't afford. This isn't limited to Wal-Mart's activities, the oil and banking industries are also doing the same things; but Wal-Mart is a major contributor and they clearly appear to be worse than even the other big-box store.
The simple argument that they shouldn't blame society may sound good but under the current circumstances the economic system isn't serving the best interest of the vast majority of the public and this is almost certainly a major reason why there is so much more problems with crimes at Wal-Mart.
Although I don't think it should be used as an excuse there is an old saying, perhaps from Russia, that "the fish rots from the head down," which means if those that the top are corrupt then you can expect that everyone else will be as well. Even though the commercial media doesn't do an adequate job reporting on how incompetent the economic system is, although they do report some of it, the people that have no opportunities for years on end or their entire lives know that it is corrupt and this isn't the land of opportunity for everyone as commercial propaganda implies. Many people that pay enough attention to the news whether it is the traditional media or alternative media recognize that the enforcement of the law is highly uneven so they're less inclined to worry about if they're abiding by it since the most powerful people don't; or they twist it so they can get away with their scams.
It is difficult to even know what Wal-Mart's policies are on the subject and there is even some doubt whether many of their employees know it; in many cases they're fired for violating a policy that they don't even know about. In 2006 according to "Wal-Mart's Shocking New Shoplifting Policy Revealed by WakeUpWalMart.com; Concerned Workers Question Policy Shift" they implemented a policy that indicated that their workers should let shoplifters go if they were taking items lower than $25 in value; this was considered shocking to some. This article cites Sam Walton who believed that shoplifting was "one of the biggest enemies of profitability in the retail business," and linked employee bonuses to reducing the "shrinkage," which includes broken products but it most often refers to shoplifting, in each Wal-Mart store. Pursuing shoplifting with reasonable discretion might not be a bad idea but when it is for a trivial item and it costs much more to prosecute and possibly even leads to risks of violence there should be some alternatives. It may be true that the cost of stolen goods has to be passed on to the consumers but this also goes for many other expenses under Wal-Marts control like advertising, lobbying, campaign contributions and union busting activities; these activities don't benefit the consumers and they actually cost society an enormous amount and almost certainly lead to increased shoplifting by creating social problems. Reducing these expenses and the social problems they create would be more important if they were accountable to society for their corrupt business practices. This change came shortly after the "Is Wal-Mart Safe?" study but apparently it didn't last long. The next year, according to "Wal-Mart toughens theft policy" they may have at least partially reversed the policy.
One thing that does seem to be consistent is that regardless of what they say on some occasions the primary motive is profit above all else including worker or customer safety or the expense to tax payers or anything else; and most of their statements actually seem to back this up. If we had a more sincere political system then they would impose regulations to look out for these other things but most politicians seem to be more concerned with collecting campaign contributions from corporations including Wal-Mart than actually representing the public.
It is no surprise that many employees can't keep track of these policies including many who have been fired like Heather Ravenstein as reported in "Wal-Mart employee foils a shoplifter — and loses her job" Wal-Mart has a long history of encouraging loyalty and pride in their stores to keep their employees motivated to work but when there is a problem they often indicate that the loyalty doesn't work both ways and she is just one of many that have been fired with little or no compensation for doing the best they knew how to under the circumstances. This is a common Machiavellian tactic which Wal-Mart uses routinely.
Getting fired isn't the worst thing that aha happened at Wal-Mart on at least one occasion an employee was killed for trying to stop someone from stealing undershirts valued at $16 (presumably the retail cost not the replacement cost which would have been lower since it doesn't include retail mark-up) as reported in "Shoplifter at Florida Walmart shoots and kills employee." These stories don't generally report whether the victims families receive much if any compensation for these incidents but it is almost certainly not much at all. Another incident began as a result of an attempted theft of sandpaper, "Elderly shoplifter in Kentucky Walmart exchanges gunfire with police and is injured."
Both Barbara Ehrenreich author of "Nickel and Dimed" and Bob Ortega author of "In Sam We Trust" have reported about what they call the Wal-Mart culture and how they encourage an enormous amount of loyalty. They have also reported about their training seminars which they teach them about all of their policies and they even used to have Wal-Mart cheers that made them feel like a family although when it came time to share the wealth it was mostly all hype and for one reason or another the employees didn't make out nearly as well as they were led to believe they would be. According to Bob Ortega Sam Walton used to lead store cheers to keep moral up:
Workers would be gathered at the front of the store. "Gimme a W!" he'd shout. "W!" the workers would shout back, and on through the Wal-Mart name. At the hyphen, Walton would shout "Gimme a squiggly!" and squat and twist his hips at the same time; the workers would squiggle right back. The cheer always ended with Walton shouting “Who’s number one?” and the workers shouting back “The customer!” (Bob Ortega “In Sam We Trust” 1998 p.91)
They're often encouraged to adopt a mythological belief about how great Wal-Mart is and how Sam was always looking out for them even though he was a major union buster and when you got past his folksy manner they were often let down. But this was part of what some people called the "Cult of Sam," they were taught to take pride in their store even though they may not have been properly compensated. This is almost certainly part of the reason why many of these employees go to so much trouble to stop shoplifters, as if they're the ones that are being robbed not a corporation that is more interested in profit than the best interest of either the customer or their employees. I can't imagine why I would worry so much about shoplifting from a corporation that was only concerned about profit for the few at the expense of the many nor do I know anyone else that might be so concerned; yet Wal-Mart seems to have a lot of employees that are motivated in this manner; and in return they risk getting fired or worse getting shot.
Psychological manipulation of workers is much more common than most people realize. Corporations including Wal-Mart have often resorted to using consultants that specialize in breaking the will of unions and turn them against each other as part of a divide and rule tactic so that they can suppress workers rights and increase profits; what is rarely recognized is that the consumer doesn't receive any benefit from this and may actually wind up with inferior quality merchandise and service as a result since the people that perform productive work don't have the proper incentives; instead the money that could go to the workers is going to the union busters or the higher profits for the corporations. John E. Tate was one of the leading union busters at the Wal-Mart corporation, as reported in Bob Ortega's book.
This has also been studied by the psychological community including psychologists that woirk for the FBI and the CIA; this work is also available to members of the public that know what to look for and there is ample evidence by the behavior of Wal-Mart executives and other corporations that many of the heads of business know to look for this when setting their policies. They have hired many consultants for various reasons and this is almost certainly one of them; however they may adopt selective acknowledgement of these research studies that benefits their short term profits and ideologies. this means they may only be acknowledging a selective portion of the research. the following excerpt from former president of the American Psychological Association, Philip Zimbardo's book may indicate what corporations try to train their workers to do. This is from a segment where people fell for what they called “Strip-search scams” where an individual called many fast food restaurants and falsely told them he was a cop and that they should detain a specific employee suspected of petty crimes and the manager or assistant manager obeyed orders from this person when he told them to strip-search them. They often obeyed.
This scam didn't work on all of the people they tried this on and they aren't all "blooming idiots" but the basic idea that corporations try to train their employees to blindly follow orders and not to question authority is true; although it isn't always completely successful. The reason it isn't always successful isn't for lack of trying on the part of the corporations but because many of their employees don't completely submit to indoctrination tactics. In many cases those who don't are often fired or let go for some other reason and they wind up with the most obedient employees; and these people often don't have the thinking skills to deal with certain problems so this often backfires on the company and leads to worse service for the customer.
And when it comes to dealing with dangerous situations they may not have the discretion they need and they simply do what they think their bosses would want and if it back fires then they are the ones that take the blame. This type of indoctrination is also detrimental in a democratic society because it reduces the ability of those that are indoctrinated to understand important issues that they're expected to vote on.
It shouldn't be much of a surprise if one of these workers, who are often mistreated by manipulative corporations, occasionally instigates the shooting whether we have adequate knowledge to know if it retaliation for mistreatment or not; there is no way for most of us to know if that is what happened when a Man at Virginia Walmart distribution center opens fire, injuring manager and then killing himself or many other incidents.
The more accurate closing of that cheer might be "profits for the board members are number one!" but that wouldn't sound as good.
It is hard to tell how much Wal-Mart's policies or other business practices might be contributing to this but there is far more than enough information to indicate that a much closer look should be taken and if the government is going to provide subsidies to companies like this, or even if they don't there should be a much better effort to look out for everyone's interest including the safety of the customers, workers and fair compensation for those that might deserve it.
Major decisions are being made about many activities including these shootings, that affect the vast majority of the public. in corporate board rooms without much if any scrutiny. In many cases the secrecy of these decisions may even be protected by trade secrecy laws. The government is doing little if anything to hold Wal-Mart accountable or even look into this to see if their policies are a contributing cause, as I'm sure the evidence would show at least to some degree if they did investigate. The commercial media isn't doing much to report on this properly even though they have much more resources than many other members of the publi8c. With all these stories on file in a searchable database they could almost certainly do much more to report on the full extent of these incidents so that people would understand better what needs to be done. The people at Wal-Mart Shootings almost certainly have much less resources and yet they do a far better job compiling the stories that are reported as isolated incidents around the country.
Tax payer money is routinely used to file charges against all these people and in many cases they result in major manhunts and panic in some communities while the manhunts are in progress. When people are getting killed over thefts of sandpaper or undershirts and Wal-Mart enforces prosecutions over eating Oreo cookies, at tax payers expense, for an employee that is underpaid due to relentless union busting tactics and off-shoring to drive down wages and poverty up; while at the same time Wal-Mart executives face little accountability for their bribery scandals and even negligent mass murder in the Bangladesh factories and perhaps even in the US on one occasion when Alice Walton was involved in an auto accident that killed a woman and no charges were filed, and the political system does nothing to understand this there is something seriously wrong.
The political establishment has no problem implementing regulations that protect the secrecy of corporations so that many of their policies are not subject to scrutiny and more regulations that help subsidize these corporations but when it comes to regulations that protect the public there is a massive effort to eliminate them on the assumption that if we let the corporations do what they want without any scrutiny then they will look out for the bet interest of the public and they will pass on their savings to us in a free market, or so we're led to believe. At the same time they admit that they're trying to maximize profits and that is their primary concern and we're not supposed to see the conflict of interests here.
For additional related stories see the following:
Opening fire in Walmart: Common-sense gun bill under assault
Police seek shoplifters who pepper-sprayed Wal-Mart security in Cascade Township
Armed Shopper (Wanna-Be Hero) Charged For Shooting At Walmart Shoplifter In Broad Daylight! [Caught On Tape]
Floridian Busted For Robbing Peter To Pay Paul: Teen stole air conditioner to settle Walmart restitution
Woman cooked meth at Walmart while being held for shoplifting, authorities say
Despite Arrest For Shoplifting, Tennessee Man Leaves Walmart With A Smiley Face
Shoplifting arrest sparks excessive-force allegations, investigation
I probably could make up stuff as bad as some of these stories but I didn't.
To Match Walton Heirs' Fortune, You'd Need to Work at Walmart for 7 Million Years
Walmart's Internal Compensation Documents Reveal Systematic Limit On Advancement