This article is about salmon. But to get to the salmon, we have to make a couple of stops; first to Walmart and then the governor’s office. I promise a pot of useful information at the end of the following rainbow of frustration.
Walmart owns over 8,500 discount department stores in 15 different countries, including a handful in Alaska. The company is one of the most profitable in the world ever, bringing in just shy of a half trillion dollars in revenue last year. Walmart employs 2.2 million worldwide and 1.4 million in the US – a full percentage point of our entire working population, making the company our number one private-sector employer.
Unfortunately, a job doesn’t always (or increasingly often) guarantee a livable wage. And a private sector success doesn’t always happen without public sector subsidies.
The average Walmart “associate” makes $20,744 per year – below the poverty line. In May, Congressional Democrats on the House Committee on Education in the Workforce released a report detailing how these low wages force taxpayers to pick up the tab for Walmart employees. Walmart’s “wages are so low that many of its workers must rely on food stamps and other government aid programs.”
Walmart’s pay is offset by taxpayers, who shoulder the costs of medicaid, housing, food stamps, school meals, and other safety net programs. Profitable? Boy howdy. Free market success? Only if you’re cool with the invisible hand in your pockets.
It gets worse.
Every year, Walmart contracts over $1 billion of clothing to be manufactured in Bangladesh. The outsourced garment manufacturers make a minimum wage of $38 per month, often in substandard work conditions, sometimes with child labor.
On May 9, one of the South Asia factories Walmart subcontracted hundreds of thousand of dollars to caught fire. Four days later, Rana Plaza’s death toll was finalized at 1,127. When outrage over the tragedy manifested in an effort to bolster labor laws, Walmart balked. Because they make their wild profits by finding the cheapest way to do business and pass the cost onto third parties, like Bangladeshi workers and American taxpayers.
Governor Sean Parnell.
Governor Parnell likes to scream loudly and carry a lot of lawyers.
He sued the feds over the Obama administration’s health care reform. On Fox News in 2010, Parnell told Greta Van Susteren: “We got to stop making this about the health care debate and start making it about our liberty.”
The Peninsula Clarion published a collective sigh, calling the lawsuit a “dubious effort based on shallow slogans and bandwagon politics.”
The trend continued.
In September of the same year, he sued the feds to overturn a moratorium on offshore drilling set in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill. “We are taking this action to ensure that the federal government abides by applicable federal law,” he said in a press release.
Governor Parnell also signed Alaska onto the Shelby County case against the Voting Rights Act. He joined a lawsuit with several states opposing graphic cigarette warning labels. He sued the feds over the right to shoot wolves in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. He sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to strip Steller sea lions of their endangered species title. He sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over a decision to designate territory in the Arctic as critical habitat for polar bears, who are heavy underdogs in their bout with climate change.
“Once again, we are faced with federal overreach that threatens our collective prosperity,” Parnell said.
Back in 2010, the Dispatch’s Craig Medred set the table for the Parnell administration in a nut shell: “Parnell is… showing off his cojones with a series of assaults on the federales. It is de rigueur for 49th state politicians to do this by championing the Alaska little man against the big, bad Fed.”
It’s executive ambulance chasing. Sean Parnell loves it. He can’t get enough of it. When he can’t find a lawsuit to volley, he signs laws and resolutions declaring a fictitious state supremacy over the flag we pledge allegiance to. Every opportunity to throw out some political red meat peppered with the overuse of the term “overreach,” and Parnell is there to pick a fight from behind a sturdy row of lawyers.
Walmart Picks a Fight with Alaska.
Last month, Walmart sent a letter breaking up with Alaska salmon. The corporate behemoth decided to only stock salmon certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had participated in the MSC certification program until 2011, when the agency chose to abandon the program because of its cost and deteriorating relevance.
In 2011, John Sackton of Seafood.com explained Fish and Game’s motivation to the Anchorage Daily News: the “certification became not so much a marketing advantage as simply the price of entry into mainstream retail sales.”
Reacting to Walmart’s latest decision, Stackton spoke up again:
Not only does Alaska have a better fishery management and control system for salmon than either British Columbia or Russia [who are MSC certified], the excellence of their management has been consistently recognized by third parties, including the MSC and [Sustainable Fisheries Project]…. So Walmart is actively urging their suppliers to purchase from areas with less robust management controls in the name of “sustainability”.
Stackton described Walmart’s move as “akin to racketeering” and “a dangerous attack on the American system of fisheries management….”
Alaska is home to the world’s largest salmon fishery. Our seafood industry brings in an estimated $5.8 billion annually. Because it’s the best in the world.
Walmart has decided to pass. They will purchase their salmon from Russia.
Last Tuesday, Governor Parnell took a break from his cadre of lawsuits, laws, and resolutions asserting state supremacy and addressed the decision. He did so by way of a very polite, three-page letter kindly asking Walmart to reconsider. Parnell made sure to use his inside-voice.
While I commend Walmart’s desire to source its products responsibly and exemplify corporate leadership in driving progress in sustainability, I believe this decision was based on incomplete information, may needlessly prevent Walmart customers from accessing sustainable, high quality Alaskan seafood products, and will undermine consumer confidence in Walmart’s commitment to its ‘Buy America’ campaign.
I understand that Walmart is operating in a global economy and is striving to develop a sustainability platform that is simple and understandable…. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you, along with members of my cabinet, in Alaska to discuss our state’s commitment to sustainability.
No high flying rhetoric. No thinly veiled threats. No offense taken or charges put forth on behalf of Alaskans. He didn’t invoke liberty lost, freedom stolen; he didn’t say “overreach” once. Most sentences seemed to drip with a parenthetical “please?”
So, what makes this different? Where’d the fight go, Governor? I mean, gee, you could just drop their taxes and hope they buy more salmon, right? You could at least raise your voice a teeny, tiny bit in objection.
Show a little backbone, governor. Otherwise, people might start to realize it’s all just an act.