Must Catholics Boycott WalMart?

Q. As a Catholic am I bound to boycott companies like Walmart if they treat their employees badly?

A. In our modern world, everything we touch is part of a complex globalized supply chain linking producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Too many links in this chain are forged with human rights abuses and environmental atrocities, all in the name of providing cheap consumer goods on demand. Many shoppers turn a blind eye to the suffering people who lie behind the low prices, whether garment workers in China or store associates in middle America. I commend you for your concern and your willingness to take action.

Now the challenge is to find effective action. You can’t simply “opt out” of modern life and never buy anything; the Catholic faith does not require you to do so. And simply boycotting one store and choosing another, which may have an equally poor record, is an exercise in futility. But you can choose an aspect of the issue that is particularly important to you – say, the minimum wage in your community, or the lack of paid sick time for employees – and join a group that is working on that issue. Jesus never said anything about boycotts. But he did say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Your call as a Catholic is to seek righteousness in the time, place and manner that are available to you.

Neela Kale

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.