Big business leaders are getting a lot of attention for criticizing President Trump this week. Many of their intentions deserve more scrutiny. In ripping the president for missing “a critical opportunity to help bring our country together,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said, “Respect for the individual is one of our core beliefs at Walmart.” That is an absurd claim to be made by the largest distribution agent for Chinese products in the United States.
When a pretentious public persona like McMillon gets on his high horse and starts pointing fingers, it’s relevant to know what his own practices are. The world’s largest private employer is not a pretty picture when considering the human-rights horrors perpetrated by the Beijing government and how important Walmart’s business is to propping up that regime and enabling the ongoing abuse.
Just about everyone knows that any toy or kitchen utensil purchased at Walmart will carry the “Made in China” label, but the dollar figures involved are staggering. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Walmart imported about $49 billion in Chinese products in the twelve-year period ending in 2013. The conservative estimate on how many U.S. jobs were lost related to this business is pegged at 400,000. Walmart’s Chinese imports to the U.S. have since grown to an estimated $40 billion annually. Given the extent of their financial collaboration with the People’s Republic, it is not a coincidence that McMillon’s attack on Trump came on the same day that the White House announced it was cracking down on intellectual property theft by Walmart’s partner, China, with huge potential import consequences.
Stealing trade secrets is hardly Beijing’s worst sin. In July, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who dared draft a proposed democratic charter for communist China, died in custody after years of abuse. It is common for journalists, religious worshippers, human rights activists and other headaches to the state to be imprisoned or simply disappear there, according to Amnesty International. According to a 2016 report China was still harvesting organs of executed prisoners, many of them political dissidents.
In one incident that should give pause to Walmart executives about their suppliers, an Arizona shopper opened a Walmart-bought purse to find a note written in Chinese from a prisoner begging for relief from 14 hours of daily forced labor without much food or health care.
Lastly, for years, Walmart’s own domestic business practices have called into question its management’s “respect for the individual.” On the top of this list was the company’s custom of secretly taking life insurance out on its employees and then cashing in the policies—with Walmart as the beneficiary—when the individuals died. That practice was finally ended in 1998. Class-action suits have been filed against Walmart for punishing workers for taking sick days and for refusing to pay earned overtime wages. One current claim charges Walmart with locking employees in buildings so they can’t leave and thus are forced to work additional hours after their shifts are over.
Walmart, with its stores often serving as the only retail provider left in America’s poorest cities and towns, has long been on the defensive for its low wages and more recently, its increasing reliance on part-time and temporary workers for which they do not have to pay benefits like health insurance. In 2009 Walmart topped the list of top 50 Ohio employers with workers and their housemates on public assistance. As Ohio’s largest private employer, Walmart had 14,684 employees or their household members on food stamps and 14,056 on Medicaid.
McMillon is entitled to his political opinions, of course. But before calling attention to himself, one should take a long look in the mirror first. Walmart’s partnership with abusive China and its own questionable labor practices make it a weak moral exemplar for others to follow.
Brett M. Decker is the bestselling author of The Conservative Case for Trump (2016) and Bowing to Beijing (2011). He is a former China-based foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter @BrettMDecker.