The environment and sustainability have become key issues in China as it tries to find meaning and reason in a society with unprecedented economic growth. Launched by Hu Jintao earlier this year, the concept of “harmonious society” is seen by many as a call to balance the effects China’s ravenous agricultural and manufacturing sectors with a fragile environment.
Wal-Mart, which undoubtedly has benefited greatly from China’s little enforced labour laws and lax environmental regulations, may be taking the harmonious society concept to heart. A Forbes article reports on a recent Wal-Mart and suppliers meeting where Chief Executive Lee Scott said the following:
“The factories in China are going to end up having to be held up to the same standards as the factories in the U.S.,” Scott said. “There will be a day of reckoning for retailers. If somebody wakes up and finds out that children that are down the river from that factory where you save three cents a foot in the cost of garden hose are developing cancers at a significant rates — so that the American public can save three cents a foot — those things won’t be tolerated, and they shouldn’t be tolerated.”
For a company that has the motto “Low Prices, Always”, Shanghaiist is glad Wal-Mart is taking a more philosophical view of its business and hopes this will lead to a China that will be liveable in the next 10 years. But Wal-Mart might also be just thinking smart business. After all, what good is a selling garden hose in a world with only cancer-causing water?