In This Review

Walmart in China
Walmart in China
Edited by Anita Chan
ILR Press, 2011, 304 pp

In the last decade or so, a Bentonville–Guangdong nexus has become one of the thickest links in the U.S.-Chinese relationship. If Walmart were a country, it would be China’s sixth-largest export market. The Arkansas-based merchandiser has become the sole customer for an entire network of subcontractors and sub-subcontractors throughout southern China. With its buying power and tight logistical management, the retailer virtually controls its suppliers without having to own them. Walmart has also become a major retailer in China, with about 200 stores catering to the rising middle class. The book’s contributors used cloak-and-dagger fieldwork skills to provide a sharp picture of labor conditions at Walmart’s suppliers and in its Chinese stores. They show that the company’s Ethical Standards Program has done little to prevent sweatshop-like abuses among its suppliers. On the other hand, its store employees have taken easily to the corporate culture, whose Christian- and rural-inflected ethos meshes with Chinese traditions of moral exhortation, mutual surveillance, and the pursuit of personal ambition through collective service.