Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The idea of Wal-Mart

There is an idea of Walmart that we all have dreamt about and then there is Walmart that we seemingly dread. Between dream and reality there is swathe of controversies that reach people’s doorsteps much before the retail store opens in any locality. The world shares a love-hate relationship with the biggest retail chain, and yet it keeps on going and growing.

Ironically, the retail chain store has been opposed tooth and nail in the country of its origin. Across the US, communities have fought their way to resist the opening of Walmart store in their neighborhood. Citizens have opposed the sprawl of Walmart stores for two compelling reasons: its negative impact on local economy and its adverse influence on their quality of life. Al Norman, who has been on the forefront of anti-sprawl activism and is the founder of the organization Sprawl-Busters, has chronicled the vulnerability of the retail major to community backlash in several cities in the US.

In India, the government is hoping to bail out a stressed economy through foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. Against available international evidence to the contrary, the government has made audacious claims that 'retail therapy' will fix the unemployment crises by generating over 100 million jobs. Hidden beneath such tall promises, Norman elucidates, are hidden costs that will eventually get borne by the communities only. With Walmart having announced its plan to fan across the country within a year’s time, it is for the communities to see the dark side of growth behind the gloss.

Stories of resistance in the book have clearly observed that educated and activated consumers remain a dispersed force to begin with. Simply put, they view themselves as 'beneficiaries' first. It is only when they view the flip side of growth that they realise that 'if you don't define growth, it will define you'. It is an inspiring book that details out how community interests must be kept safe with campaigns that can go the distance. The longer the anti-sprawl campaign lasts its message gets retained by the community that much longer. The Indian edition is a timely publication of Al Norman's work, a must read for those who are yet to make up their mind on the market-made calamity that, in the name of growth, will soon be upon the consumers and the communities alike....Link

Slam-dunking Walmart
by Al Norman
Banyan Tree, Indore
280 pages, Rs.400

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