Wal-mart Blacklisted in Scandanavia
The widely heard, but infrequently acted upon (in America) concerns that Wal-mart is exploiting its workers and suppliers is now being taken up by Sweden and Norway. Both countries have sold all of their stock holdings in the company, which were parts of national pension funds for the respective governments. Norway deemed Wal-mart to be in violation of their Ethical Investment guidelines, while Sweden cited persistent human rights violations. The economic impact of this criticism is minimal, but the message it sends demonstrates how seriously the global community is concerned with Wal-mart's practices.
While the actions of these two nations may come as a surprise, the reaction of the United States ambassador to Norway was even more surprising. Ambassador Benson Whitney accused Norway of betraying the values of "fairness, transparency, justice, dialogue and ethics," while arbitrarily investigating and banning solely American companies. Wal-mart is not the first to be nationally blacklisted. Kerr-Mcgee and Freeport-Mason were both banned previously. Interestingly, Ambassador Whitney did nothing to defend the business, ethical, and human rights practices of Wal-mart, but rather criticized the Norwegian process of evaluation, and the lack of established standards for this process. While Whitney may not have stepped up to bat for Wal-mart, others in the Bush administration have. Vice president Cheney, for example, lauded praises on Wal-mart as embodying "some of the very best qualities in our country."
All of this posturing raises several questions about how America should react. Is it best for us to stand up for an American company, and protect our economic interests in situations where we do nothing to criticize that company's practices? Should we assume a hand-off, laissez-faire stance, and let investors, be it individuals, groups, or governments, buy and sell as they choose? Or is it time that we step back and objectively evaluate the practices of the companies we sanction? Ambassador Whitney drew the distinction between individuals buying or selling a certain stock on ethical grounds and a national government doing the same. If the case is that Scandinavians truly feel that they are part of the government, and that it is representing their interests, then is there any difference?