It’s not often that Wal-Mart admits it’s in the wrong. Days ago, the retail giant pleaded guilty to multiple violations of the Clean Water Act. The case, which involves actions that occurred as far back as 2006, found Walmart guilty of illegally disposing of hazardous materials and failing to properly handle pesticides returned by customers.
Total fines levied by the government add up to more than $110 million, to which Walmart says, “whatevs.”
Built on a business model that exploits laborers through slave wages and an unsafe working environment, Walmart uses its immense buying power to shift the market toward the cheapest products, many of which are the worst for humans and the planet.
Some have defended Walmart, saying they give those with limited cash access to what they want at a price they can afford. Some actually applaud their business model, suggesting the goal of every company should be to become the Walmart of their industry, reaching for profit at any cost.
Well, if you’ve ever wondered the true cost of Walmart’s low prices, the exposure of its flippant attitude toward hazardous waste is one of the definitive answers.
From the official EPA press release:
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, from a date unknown until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level.
As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system, or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.
You know what happens when you pour something into the trash or down the drain? It eventually ends up in the water table, aka the water you drink, cook with, and use to clean your home. “Mmmmm, hazardous waste is so refreshing!” said no one ever.
“Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than 2 million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart’s contract. Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri in the same release.
You know what Walmart, which last year had nearly $130 billion in revenue, said? The payments aren’t likely to have a material effect on its business. To them, $110 million is a drop in the bucket.
That means despite the fact that the details of its crimes have been published all over the internet, from the New York Times on down, the company is confident that Americans will pay it no mind, and continue to buy their food and housewares from an admitted environmental criminal.
Are they right?
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