Community activists this week charged that Wal-Mart and other retailers are placing their profits ahead of national security. The group Wake Up Wal-Mart, helped coordinate a national effort in more than 15 states called “Wal-Mart, Put America’s Security First.” The group held a press conference at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on March 22, calling on Wal-Mart, America’s largest private importer of port containers, to stop lobbying against 100% scanning of port containers coming into this country. U.S. ports are considered to be a weak link in the chain of this country’s defense against terrorism, because only 5% of the port containers coming into the country are scanned for content. Wal-Mart has been aggressively lobbying against 100% scanning of port containers, despite the explicit threat to homeland security unscreened containers pose. The group says that another Wal-Mart container enters the U.S. every 45 seconds. To counter Wal-Mart lobbying campaign, Wake Up Wal-Mart produced its own TV spot, critical of Wal-Mart’s efforts to block heightened security. One of the events in New England was held at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. “Profits should not come at the expense of security,” Tom Carvalho of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 told reporters in Portsmouth. Wal-Mart responded quickly to this new campaign. “Wal-Mart is proud of our efforts to ensure a more secure supply chain, and we will continue to play a central role in defining real solutions to enhance cargo security,” the company said. “This union-funded ad is in poor taste and an irresponsible attempt to avoid the facts, play upon people’s fears and disparage our company and its 1.8 million associates worldwide. “We’re not here to stick a stick in Wal-Mart’s eye,” Carvalho told the Union Leader newspaper. “We’re here to make them a responsible corporation.” Although other importers are lobbying against container safety, Wal-Mart is the largest importer of foreign products in America. “When you’re in the fight, you pick the biggest dog,” said Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, the shipyard’s largest union. Republican Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of New Hamphire, released a statement at the rally which said, “We live in a dangerous world, and leaving 95% of containers unscanned makes it even more dangerous. For example, the unsecured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union could be purchased by terrorists and end up in a container bound for one of our major ports. It’s the responsibility of all Americans -including our corporate citizens – to protect the public from such nightmare scenarios. Indeed, it’s our and their patriotic duty.”
In April of 2006, Wal-Mart faced similar charges from the AFL-CIO about the security of our ports. At that time, Wal-Mart said it supported 100% screening of containers. “The fact is,” Wal-Mart said a year ago, “we and other retailers have played a critical role since 9/11 in working toward real solutions to enhance port security – from supporting 100% screening of containers, to testing new technologies and ways to identify container tampering. We are working closely with Congress and the Administration to find the best ways to improve supply chain security.” Wal-Mart said it wanted better background security checks of dock workers. The public events around the country this week have put Wal-Mart on the defensive again for an action that normally might have escaped public notice. Most citizens have no idea how much lobbying companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot do before Congress. Whether it’s importing Chinese fans, or international trade rules, these big retailers wield a big stick in Washington, D.C. In this case, Wal-Mart was asked bluntly to “help stop the next 9/11. “Wal-Mart has a simple choice to make,” Carvalho from the UFCW explained. “What is more important — Wal-Mart’s profits, or America’s security? Sadly, for Wal-Mart, we know the answer is profits first and America’s security second. Even if it cost $100 to scan each container, it would only raise the cost of the goods inside by .2 percent,” he said. Instead of dealing with the message of this criticism, Wal-Mart decided to attack the messenger. The company called this week’s activities “a desperate campaign that is rooted in politics and nothing else.” The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 1, which implements the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, requiring 100% scanning of cargo containers bound for the United States. The U.S. Senate is currently debating its version of the 9/11 bill.