Accountability of information

March 11, 2008

activism / books / business / culture

Recently, I finished reading The Wal-Mat Effect. It has been a thoroughly gripping and unique read, unlike any other business book I have ever read.

I read a decent number of business books. I enjoy a lot of the ones I read, especially the ones that really examine culture. The impact of business on culture, the impact of culture on business, ways to do business better, and so on. Many times, they are incredibly relevant to theology, ministry, and the church as well as business.

The Wal-Mat Effect does not have a surface relevance to these things. On the surface, it sets out to examine Wal-Mart and its impact. The impact that it has on business: its own business, the business of its competitors, the business of its suppliers, and the business of the rest of the world.

The reason that this is so gripping is that it reaches to the way Wal-Mart impacts me, in my shopping, my ways of spending money, my expectations of what things should cost, and the ethics and decisions of my financial life.

It seems that this is a bit dramatic, but after reading throughout the book about the scale that Wal-Mart has, and its power and influence and insistence on secrecy, it feels that the book’s impact is entirely justified. I want to recommend it.

Consider the following:

It’s time to do two things: To acknowledge in public policy terms that there is a difference between a $10 million corporation, a $100 million corporation, and a $100 billion corporation. We need to acknowledge that scale matters. And we need to start a fresh process of understanding by insisting on a level of information from megacorporations that they will vigorously resist providing. As with other shifts in corporate accountability, we can be absolutely confident that as soon as the new era of megacorporation transparency is in place, not only will we benefit, but the companies themselves will benefit.

There are many people who are aware of what this transparency, if it ever comes, will reveal about Wal-Mart. The interesting thing is that it will reveal much of the same about companies across the spectrum of large American business, from Target to Starbucks.

What I am interested to learn is whether or not this kind of knowledge will change us. Will more people make informed decisions about how, when, and why they shop? Will there be more real choices, with real differences, available to the consumer?