Monday, August 13, 2007

Wal-Mart and Reliance

No doubt many of you have heard of the horrors that Wal-mart has perpetrated on its poor employees, communities, suppliers, and even customers in the name of their lowest-price guarantee. (If not, see Store Wars and Wal-mart: The High Cost Of Low Prices)

Now the culture of Wal-mart is spreading its wings. Reliance in India is now opening a number of hypermart stores. Reliance, a communications company in India that deals in everything from cell phone lines to energy supplies to grain and groceries, is one of India's major mega-corporations. (The movie Guru gives a similar, if biased and Bollywood-adapted, history)

What does that mean for India? It could mean lower prices, of course, for indigent Indians who struggle for necessities. It also means that Reliance has managed to muscle out giants like Wal-mart from the Indian marketplace, for the time being. But it is also likely to mean further exploitation of an already underpaid labor force, wiping out of the small roadside businesses that are an integral part of Indian life, and an import of lower-quality foreign items to India. (A few articles here, here, and here give different accounts).

Many protests around India have drawn attention to the announcement (while here in the US, we get nearly no news of it!) We can only hope that Reliance will continue to buy within the country (ie, locally!) and will pay fair wages. But is that just the idealist in me speaking?

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