Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Kees van der Pijl
Chapter 9: Encumbered behemoth: Wal-Mart, differential accumulation and international retail restructuring
Wal-Mart is a behemoth. The retail giant has garnered greater annual revenues than any other firm for seven of the last ten years. And with 2.2 million employees, it has about as many people in uniform as the People’s Liberation Army of China. The enormity of Wal-Mart’s operations has made the company the focus of much attention from journalists and scholars alike. In particular, the social effects of its model of ‘everyday low prices’, in which very cheap products are sold in very high volumes, have been hotly debated. Economic geographers, labour historians, business analysts, neoclassical economists and sociologists have all weighed in on the discussions (cf. Basker 2007; Bianco 2006; Gereffi and Christian 2009; Lichtenstein 2006). While some have pointed to the savings that Wal-Mart offers to cash-strapped consumers, others have sought to highlight the deleterious effects Wal-Mart’s cost-cutting strategies have on its own employees, on local communities and on the workers that toil in sweatshop conditions for Wal-Mart’s suppliers.
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