As part of a holiday charity campaign, the Walmart Foundation last month donated $1.5 million to food pantries across the country, while hundreds of thousands of Walmart’s own workers struggle to feed themselves and their families, thanks to the corporation’s famously low wages.
Walmart, during the first week of December, launched the Food Pantry Holiday Makeover campaign, which donated $20,000 to 75 food pantries across the country that won the most votes from Walmart employees over a ten-day period.
“Walmart believes that everyone should have access to safe, affordable food,” reads the holiday makeover campaign website. “Our goal with the ‘Food Pantry Holiday Makeover’ campaign is to strengthen communities by helping food pantries across the country refresh their facilities to make it easier for them to help families who may struggle with hunger.”
An estimated 825,000 workers at Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, earn less than $25,000 annually, placing many who have families below the poverty line.
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Many of the 1.4 million Walmart employees in the country are beneficiaries of food assistance programs, like SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps. The company’s employees make up a whopping 18 percent of the SNAP market, according to a 2014 report by Americans for Tax Fairness.
A group of lawmakers in the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce in 2013 concluded that a single Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million every year. There are more than 4,100 Walmarts in the United States.
The corporation will also make some part of its $1.5 million donation back in the form of tax deductions, a method that has proven lucrative.
“Food pantry donations aren’t a bad thing, but it’s ridiculous Walmart doesn’t pay us more,” Diana Tigon, an associate at a Walmart in Arlington, Texas, told Rewire. “They don’t want to pay us what we deserve, so they turn around and donate to something we use anyway, but they get tax write-offs for those donations. So it’s like, who’s really paying who here?”
Though Walmart officials have said average employee wage is around $12 an hour, outside groups estimate that number to be more like $9.
In 2013, the company had $16 billion in profits, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. Forbes calculates that the six members of the Walton family, which founded the company, have a net worth of $178.1 billion.
Two Walmart stores in recent years gained national attention after hosting holiday food drives, asking employees to donate food to their co-workers in need.
Workers have organized protests since 2012 that call attention to Walmart’s poor working conditions and demand better pay and hours.
“I skip a lot of meals. The most important thing is food for the babies, then my younger brothers,” La’Randa Jackson wrote in a letter to Walmart heir Alice Walton. “Ms. Walton, my co-workers and I don’t want your food bins. We work hard and we don’t want your charity. We want you and your family to improve pay and hours for Walmart workers like me so that we can buy our own groceries.”
The company has retaliated against employees speaking out. The National Labor Relations Board last year found that Walmart illegally fired, disciplined, and threatened employees for complaining publicly about wages.