Friday, August 18, 2006

Andrew Young's Year Goes From Bad to Worse

For most of my life, I've looked at former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor, Andrew Young, as an important civil rights icon, and one of the ultimate voices for peace and equality. He's someone that when he walks into a room, he commands respect. His closeness to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work in the civil rights movement afford him said respect. But along with that comes a huge responsibility. Far be it from me to criticize Ambassador Young. But I don't think I'm alone when I say that he's been dabbling in things that seem counterproductive to what we all believe that he stands for. During 2006, he has made some controversial decisions, such as defending his fellow former Atlanta mayor, and now convicted criminal, Bill Campbell. And I'm afraid it's just gotten worse.

It seems that recently when a corporate giant runs afoul of public opinion, Young becomes the "go to guy" to help mend their image. He came under tremendous fire in the late 90's when his company, GoodWorks, was accused of painting a pretty picture over the terrible business practices of Nike. Labor groups couldn't believe it. The man who "bridged the gaps between the rich and the poor" was now being said to have "misrepresented" the true nature of Nike and its relationships with employees in third world nations.

Then, earlier this year, Young signed on with mega economy- killer and labor-suppressor, WalMart. I'm sure you've seen the ads featuring Young posing with the smiling faces of WalMart employees. All of which probably make only minimum wage and receive no benefits like healthcare or retirement packages.

But today, Young's association with WalMart ends. He's resigning over statements that he made about the giant corporation putting "mom and pop" operations out of business, and his stated belief that they should. To his credit, he did apologize for what he said. But I think he should further clarify just what he believes. The responsibility afforded by his place in society calls for it.

For the record, my first job was with a "mom and pop" grocery store when I was 15. It no longer exists today as it was hard enough for it and its fellow small grocery stores to compete with the chain stores. When WalMart finally bullied its way into town (against a great effort from locals that lasted several years), the store could no longer keep its doors open. In fact, of the 6 "mom and pop" grocery stores (not counting hardware stores, etc) that I can remember, only two are still in business. And rumors have abounded for a while of the impending closing of the other two.

As for how the store I worked for conducted its business, it was ran by a devout Christian who didn't walk around with his convictions on his sleeves and liberally passing out his judgements on how one should live their life. Instead, he led quietly by example. The family business didn't stay open for 60 years by overcharging its customers and discriminating against them. Rather, it was involved in the community and supported the very customers that walked through its doors daily- regardless of race. When homes were burned or lost in a storm, or when the job of a loyal customer was lost, he was ususally there the next day with a free box of groceries in arm and a promise of further help and prayers. Many, many times I witnessed this man make good on his promises and live out his beliefs.

So, I have a real problem with Young's generalized characterization of "mom and pop" stores and his belief that WalMart should run them out of business. From my perspective, some self-evaluation seems needed for a man whose name has been synonymous with "equality."


Steve said...

I think his comments are pretty much indefensible.

Rocky said...

I feel that the racist undertones of Young's comments are indefensible. But Young's overall support of Walmart certainly seems defensible.

I'm not a fan of Walmart - but this is primarily because I don't care for the dirty shopping experience (which is starting to be noticed by Walmart, who has recently announced they'll be targeting a broader range of customers).

But I have to admire the efficiency with which they run their business. They are a huge innovator in pushing RFID adoption among suppliers. They've leveraged the power of their volume to negotiate smaller margins with suppliers. Then they pass these savings onto the consumer - and this is why Young supports the company.

Walmart's philosophy is to provide regular people the necessities in life at affordable prices - and I can't say they don't do this. And how many jobs do they provide in very poor communities, to many under-educated people?

It's not an easy issue, but I personally don't see one side as right or wrong in the Walmart debate. The real question (imho) is not whether they compensate their employees poorly, but whether they engage in anti-competitive practices.

Tina said...

In the case of Mel Gibson, one can say "in vino veritas." But Andrew Young can't even plead being drunk.
In this case, a quotation from Shakespeare is more appropriate:
"O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible." (from Hamlet) In neither case will an apology make up for the revelation.

Tina said...

Re: Walmart. I don't think their produce and meats are anything to brag on. Also I find it annoying when they have 20 cash registers and three cashiers on duty.

Button Gwinnett said...

You makes some good points Rocky. I like the premise of making goods available at a cheaper price so that low income people can afford them. And they do employ a lot of unskilled people who need those jobs.

But it seems that WalMart is way too powerful when it comes to being able to control what other companies it does business with do. In some cases they've driven their partners past the point of efficiency to having to outsource jobs to other countries to meet WalMart's demands.

But what's really scary to me are the claims by some employees that WalMart turns that same laser-like focus on them too. I know that every company has disgruntled employees. But there have been a lot of claims of "working off the clock" and other such tactics to make sure those low prices can be met.