Now I’ve heard [almost] everything: there’s a Walmart radio commercial playing in our area that touts the company’s affiliation with local food banks. Apparently, purchases of selected items translate to contributions from Walmart to said food banks. Also, they’re collecting direct donations in their stores. This, when the company benefits from government giveaways of up to $7.8 billion annually, almost $6.2 billion of which is remitted to its employees in various forms of public assistance, including food stamps (the remainder mostly takes the form of tax breaks). Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that if such public subsidies were divided equally among all 1.4 million Walmart employees, each would receive approximately $4,415. So….the company is donating to local food banks, which, while staged as a big-hearted gesture, turns out to be a thoroughly practical move, because some of their workers may actually depend on such resources. There isn’t a scale to measure the hypocrisy in this tactic. Nor the irony. This mother of all greedy employers is expecting a public pat on the back for its largesse and generosity to the needy in its communities, while it mistreats its employees and pays them slave wages — some of their employees are the needy.
Jeff Bezos has implemented a slightly different approach to his altruistic charade. He’s airing simple, bare-bones commercials showing Amazon cargo planes, with no sound, but overlaying text blurbs claiming how many meals the company has given to the homeless, how much it has donated to various causes, how caring and generous it is, what an exemplary corporation citizen it is. Truly gag inducing, especially considering that Bezos is, by some measures, the wealthiest human on the planet, and his company pays next to nothing in income tax. After scathing criticism leveled at him from the Biden administration and, notably, Bernie Sanders, Bezos has magnanimously come out in favor of higher corporate income tax assessments, but as his company has recently paid an effective tax rate of 1.2%, that’s not saying much. He almost certainly has no intention of paying the 28% rate that Biden is proposing. This seeming change of heart comes after relentless public shaming from Sanders about Amazon’s pittance wages. Bezos did agree to set minimum compensation at $15 per hour, but the abusive, sweatshop conditions in his facilities remain the same, with new horror stories surfacing regularly. And of course, the company did just deploy a successful union-busting effort at one of its Alabama facilities.
Subaru has been advertising its “give back” policy for years. We’ve all seen the commercials, each focused on one of the list of charitable causes Subaru supports. It promises to kick in $250 from the sale of each new car to the buyer’s choice of charities. As the median MSRP of a 2020-2021 model is over $25,500, a 1% tithe, while probably relatively more than Amazon kicks in to its causes, isn’t going to break the company. Still, the commercials do tend to generate warm fuzzies, which, of course, is what they’re after.
I’ve gotta wonder if anyone is taken in by such blatant, calculated PR campaigns. I’d assume that, yes, there is a segment of the population who will see or hear the commercials and say, “See? Walmart isn’t that bad,” or, “Hey, Bezos is giving back. He’s not a bad guy after all.” They’re the same people who believe Delta and Coke have come out against the new voter suppression laws in Georgia because their company leaders actually see the laws as unfair.
The gamesmanship and the utter cynicism of large corporations are almost beyond belief. It’s all about manipulating consumers in any way they can. Even when many of us are hip to what’s going on, we still patronize these companies, because they’re convenient and/or sell their merchandise or services cheaply. I don’t know whether it’s worse to be fooled and think well of deceitful organizations, or to see them for the shameless con artists they are, and buy from them, anyway. I suppose all we can do is take the wins where we can get them, and keep pressuring behemoth businesses to do the right thing, because corporate policies in aggregate are a main reason that so many citizens don’t have what they need. Regardless of its motives, however, at least Walmart’s donations to food banks will provide supplies they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, so we follow the advice about gift horses. Those contributions won’t begin to make up for Walmart’s rapacious practices, but they’ll be gratefully accepted nevertheless. It’s just saddening that we need such “benevolence.”