In 1996, Wal-Mart opened its first store in China in the Southern city of Shenzhen. Wang Shishu was one of the company’s first employees – he was hired to operate a dishwasher at the store’s food court.
His friends were jealous. "Everyone wanted to work there. I only got the job because back then, nobody in China knew how to operate a dishwasher – but I did," says Wang, proudly. "I had already worked at Pizza Hut."
Wang made a dollar an hour – a high salary in China at the time. "I could support my two children and my wife and it covered our food and housing costs, too."
As China’s economy rapidly developed, so, too, did the cost of living in China. But wages for China’s Wal-mart employees lagged behind. China’s economy is now eleven times bigger than it was 18 years ago, when Wal-mart first arrived. In that same time, the starting salary for employees at Wal-Mart in China has only gone up by 73 cents an hour. There’s not much employees can do about it – the only workers' union allowed under Chinese law– The All China Federation of Trade Unions - typically acts on behalf of company management, rather than employees. "It’s simply a boss’s union," says Wang, "not a group that seeks justice for workers."
So in the summer of 2012, Wang collected dozens of workers’ signatures asking Wal-Mart for better wages. A week after presenting the petition to Wal-Mart and union officials, Wal-Mart fired him. Wang sued, and in November, a Chinese court ruled in Wang’s favor – ordering Wal-Mart to rehire him. But on the morning of his first day back at work, Wang's lawyer calls – Wal-Mart’s just appealed the case. "Now I'm going to have to wait for the appeal to go through," Wang grumbles. "They’re probably going to try and negotiate a cash settlement, but I just want my job back."
China’s always been crucial to Wal-Mart’s success – for decades, the country’s cheap exports and quick supply chain helped the company maintain its low prices. Today, Wal-Mart operates 390 stores in more than 150 cities throughout China.
It’s a good match for China’s shifting economy. The government wants to turn yesterday’s factory workers of the manufacturing sector into an army of restaurant, hotel, and retail employees for its new service sector.
But Shenzhen labor lawyer He Yuancheng says Wal-Mart needs to pay these workers a livable wage. "Only when all China’s workers have money to spend will they actually consume more," says He. "If companies like Wal-Mart don’t pay workers enough, China’s service sector won’t grow."
Mr. He has handled dozens of worker complaints against Wal-Mart. He says Wal-Mart has a cozy relationship with the Chinese government’s workers union. "It’s a win-win situation," says He. "The union gets tens of thousands of Wal-Mart workers to join it and Wal-Mart can brag about having so-called ‘unionized’ workers in China."
In response to a list of questions about how Wal-Mart treats its workers in China, Kevin Gardner, Wal-Mart’s Senior Director of International Corporate Affairs, wrote in an email that no one at the company was available for an interview on this topic.
Back in Shenzhen, another former Wal-Mart employee, Wang Yafang, says after eleven years at the company, she took leave to attend a workers’ rights march across the border in Hong Kong. She says after her manager saw her marching on the local television news, he fired her. China’s official union approved her termination. When she threatened a lawsuit, she says Wal-Mart officials scoffed at her chances. "They said they had hired the best lawyers in the country and that there was no chance I’d win," she remembers.
A year later, Wang won her lawsuit against Wal-Mart in a Chinese court. Wal-Mart appealed the ruling twice. It lost each time. In the end, the company was forced to pay Wang 18 months of lost salary. The victory gave Wang a boost of confidence to go after a bigger target. Now, she says she’s suing China’s government-backed union, too.
Bacardi, Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker have some new competition these days. There's been a surge in the number of craft distilleries in the U.S. over the past few years, as more mom and pop entrepreneurs are making liquor for local customers.
We're about 5 days into the Sundance Film Festival underway in Park City Utah.
By the end, about 50 thousand people will go to the mountains to watch documentaries and art house films. A somewhat smaller number are there to make deals -- agents and studio executives looking for the next bit hit.
Wesley Morris is film critic at Grantland and is in Park City for the festival. He told Kai Ryssdal that he's noticed a trend this year: Production value is up, and studio execs are increasingly stingy:
"I don't think you can get away now with a movie that looks like it was shot on a camera phone. I think the aesthetic bar is just higher now. And I think in some ways, these directors aren't making movies aimed at the audience like you and me. They're talking to the executives and they're making movies that say to the executives, 'Hey, I can make something that looks great.' Because in some ways this is really two festivals. This is a festival for the market and the business people, and it's a festival for people who want to experience something special."
It’s no secret that fashion magazines use Photoshop on most of their spreads.
“They have definite conversations about it, and they definitely have a preconceived idea of how they want the picture to look,” says Kate Betts, author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, and a former fashion editor herself.
So perhaps the editors of Vogue were surprised when the retouched images of Lena Dunham in their latest issue sparked a social media firestorm, led by the blog Jezebel.
And Betts says that’s exactly the reason Millennials may have disliked Vogue’s spread of Dunham: “Millennials really want the real image and that’s what the conversation about the Lena Dunham cover was really about. She’s part of that generation and she’s baring it all on her TV so, so maybe people were confused that she was suddenly going Vogue on us and they wanted her to be herself.”
When it’s easier to find retouched images, the real ones stand out.
Investors are worried about Expedia.com's future, following news that the website has been demoted by Google in search engine results. The travel price comparison company's visibility in search results has reported dropped 25 percent, which on the Internet is the equivalent of moving your company's billboards from downtown Manhattan to Antarctica.
Neither company has said why yet, but there's speculation that Expedia may have engaged in the dubious practice of trying to buy links. That's what happened to rap lyrics website Rap Genius recently.
It could just be a tweak in Google's algorithm, which is constantly being updated by engineers. But there have also been rumors that the tech giant is experimenting with its own travel price comparison product.
And there are growing questions -- as the company faces an antitrust case in Europe -- about whether the company might have too much influence about how we access information on the web.
Farmers can now deliver data from their fields, minute by minute, to big agribusiness companies like Monsanto or John Deere. Those companies promise to use the data to help farmers make money. But some farmers worry that it could threaten their privacy and give the big companies too much power.