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Wal-Mart and Its Workers: Not the Same All Over the World

February 20, 2008 - 4:00 pm

Chris Tilly, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This presentation draws from Chris Tilly’s “Wal-Mart and Its Workers: NOT the Same All Over the World” (Connecticut Law Review 39, 2007). According to the author, it is tempting for U.S.-based observers to assume that Wal-Mart replicates its home-country practices and strategies in the fourteen other countries where it operates. However, that is not the case. Based on detailed evidence from Mexico and more limited evidence from a number of other countries, Tilly shows that Wal-Mart follows varied strategies on price-setting, employee wages and benefits, and relationships with unions. Although Wal-Mart does consistently put strong cost-reduction pressure on suppliers, it has failed to achieve rapid growth in a number of countries, lags behind European counterparts in international expansion, and has pulled out of several countries. Variations in Wal-Mart’s practices and strategies result from differences in markets, institutions, and culture, suggesting leverage points for those who seek to press Wal-Mart and other large retailers to adopt practices friendlier to workers and suppliers.

About the Speaker:
Chris Tilly is Professor in the Department of Regional Economic and Social Development at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His research specializes on labor markets, with a particular focus on inequality, urban development, and public policies directed toward better jobs. Professor Tilly’s books include Half a Job: Bad and Good Part-Time Jobs in a Changing Labor Market (Temple University Press, 1996), Glass Ceilings and Bottomless Pits: Women’s Work, Women’s Poverty (with Randy Albelda, South End Press, 1997), Work Under Capitalism (with Charles Tilly, Westview Press, 1998), Stories Employers Tell: Race, Skill, and Hiring in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2001), co-authored with Philip Moss of RESD, and American Cities in Transition: The Changing Face of Urban Inequality (Russell Sage Foundation, 2001), edited with Alice O’Connor and Lawrence Bobo. Although his research has primarily focused on the United States, he has recently broadened his research agenda to include a new emphasis on jobs in Mexico, as well as undertaking comparative analyses with European and Latin American colleagues.
Chris Tilly holds a joint Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Economics and Urban Studies and Planning.