Before I visited friends and family in the US last summer, I had read a lot about Wal-Mart and its business practices, which made me decide I never wanted to shop there. But when the toilet clogs at 11 pm, and you really have go (and it’s a no. 2), and your host has no plunger, Wal-Mart it is. And Wal-Mart’s bathroom it is.
I must digress a bit: One thing I like about American stores is the fact that they have bathrooms. It’s a surprise if you encounter one that doesn’t. Grocery, book, clothing – all have a restroom. Here in Norway, you never hear of a store apologizing for the inconvenience because the north bathrooms are closed for renovation, so please use bathrooms at south end because Norwegian stores don’t have bathrooms. At least, I’ve never discovered any. Considering the lack of public toilets in general in this country (a 7-story shopping mall in town has a few stalls on the 5th floor), I’m sure tourists believe Norwegians are like TV-heroes: You see us eating and drinking constantly, but you never catch us needing to use the john. Anyway, Wal-Mart had a choice of several plungers, so we got the one in a nice white stand that hides the plunger, plunger design being your basic red or black rubber thingy attached to a wooden pole. Oh, and we got the toilet unplugged. Yay!
Wal-Mart’s big and popular because they are big and cheap. However, in the name of being consistently cheaper than any other store around, Wal-Mart stopped buying American and started buying Chinese. And that, it turns out, is how Wal-Mart got in the news in Norway today.
Amnesty International has criticized Norway’s largest bank, DnB NOR (an awkward acronym due to something like 18.5 merges) has invested money from its children’s funds in companies like Wal-Mart and Honeywell. The problem is that Wal-Mart buys Chinese and the Chinese use child labor under rather bad conditions; Honeywell manufactures arms. Not the sort of thing you want to build your own child’s future financial well-being on. Not even Norway’s main oil fund (meant to pay our pensions when we run out of young people who work) has kept its investments in these companies. The fund adopted an ethical profile a few years ago, so no matter how big and successful Wal-Mart is (it’s the world’s largest retailer), its Chinese products and ban on labor unions won’t attract Norway’s oil money.
(The news item in Norwegian, also featured in our weekly consumer TV program.)