Fight poverty by shopping at Wal-Mart?

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Even without considering the $263 billion in consumer savings that Wal-Mart provides for low-income Americans, or the millions lifted out of poverty by Wal-Mart in other developing nations, it is unlikely that there is any single organization on the planet that alleviates poverty so effectively for so many people.

That's FLOW co-founder Michael Strong in TCS Daily, casting Wal-Mart as an unintentional development agency. I've always been stridently anti-Wal-Mart, but maybe it's time to recognize the positives. Yes, big box stores and chains of all sizes give suburban American a disturbingly homogenous feel and accelerate sprawl. At the same time, global brands compete on reputation - for their working conditions and environmental impact in every country - in a way that other firms do not. From Fortune: "a McKinsey & Co. study leaked to the press by found that up to 8% of shoppers had stopped patronizing the chain because of its reputation." So these chain stores face much greater incentives to exhibit socially responsible behavior.

If Wal-Mart follows through on plans for energy efficiency and organic cotton, I'll continue to soften my stance. If a vibrant union of Wal-Mart workers stateside emerges, I might even shop there. More from Strong's article:

An unreflective passion for social justice may be one of the biggest obstacles to creating peace and prosperity in the 21st century. While there are most certainly factory owners in China whom we would rightly regard as criminal in their treatment of their workers, it is very important not to confuse these incidents with the phenomenon of globalization.

P.S. FLOW is kicking off a national series of Peace through Commerce events on September 30 in D.C.

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