The news: The city of Portland has spoken, and it's saying goodbye to Walmart.
Officials announced Thursday that the Oregon metropolis is "eschewing any future investments in the retailing giant," and will let its Walmart bonds expire in April 2016 without renewal. In other words, they're divesting, eliminating what is currently a $36 million investment.
Walmart holdings previously made up 2.9% of Portland's investment portfolio.
What does this mean? The move is mostly symbolic. A divestment isn't the same thing as kicking Walmart out of town, but it certainly makes for a firm rebuttal against what the mega-chain stands for.
In October 2013, Portland adopted a set of "socially responsible investment principles" that have led to a re-evaluation of "holdings that may spur 'health and environmental concerns, abusive labor practices, and corrupt corporate ethic and governance.'" This has already incorporated statewide efforts to divest from fossil fuel holdings. Now it seems to have expanded against what's become one of the most infamous corporations in America.
Bravo. Whether Walmart is actually run by Satan himself remains unconfirmed, but some of the company's practices certainly belie a troubling attitude toward employees. Whether it's locking them in stores during late night shifts or paying them well short of a living wage, Walmart's treatment of workers has prompted waves of popular backlash and protests, the latter of which, ironically, are often squashed by Walmart's own draconian anti-labor practices.
And amidst all the horror stories of employees living on food stamps and subsisting on meals from canned food drives, the company's multi-billion dollar profits are funneled into the hands of the Waltons, a family whose exploits read like the plot of a crack-addled Douglas Sirk melodrama. Case in point is Alice Walton, the 64-year-old heiress and dedicated drunk driver who ran over 50-year-old Oleta Hardin in the 1980s, killing her instantly, and whose latest DWI in 2011 resulted in a paltry $925 fine.
"Do you know who I am?" she reportedly asked the officer who pulled her over. "Do you know my last name?"
Your retail dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.
But like it or not, Walmart remains one of America's largest and most profitable companies. And despite its villainous mainstream image and dubious labor practices, the company's rapid growth and enduring prominence over the past half century make it a defining "corporate symbol of America" — all of which makes Portland's divestment that much bolder:
Image Credit: Daniel Ferry
If other cities follow suit, the result would be an unprecedented public stand against the company.