“We did quite good. Slightly better than last year,” Mr. Robert Kwee, Executive Vice President of SM Hypermarket told the Business Mirror when asked recently about the local retail industry’s performance during the Christmas Holidays when shopping in the country is, traditionally, at its peak.

The SM exec’s positive assessment is likewise shared by one of Robinsons Supermarket‘s top honcho, Assistant Vice-President Bonifacio Y. Mabanta, who claimed in the same Business Mirror report that their December 1-21, 2008 sales were 14% higher than the previous year’s.

But while major supermarket chains in this side of the Earth are all-smiles because of the mind-blowing profits generated from the heavy buying Filipinos carried out during the Christmas season, retailers in countries where frenzied consumer spending during the Holidays were invented are experiencing record-low sales – quite a number of them are actually at the brink of closing shop.

Shopping gloom

In the United States, retail-sales for the shopping period of November and December 2008 plunged to as low as 8%, making this year’s holiday shopping period the worst in decades. According to Michael McNamara, Vice President of research and analysis for MasterCard Inc.’s SpendingPulse, among the hardest hit in the US retail industry were the apparel, electronics and appliance categories.

In Europe, shopping is also at their lowest levels.

woolworthsCentury-old British shopping chain Woolworths is closing down nearly half of its stores because of poor sales. Analysts say this is likely to become one of the most high-profile casualties in the biting financial crisis worldwide and in Britain’s economic downturn. According to reports, of the 813 Woolworths shops across England, 200 will close on December 30 (today) and another 200 will follow suit on January 2 and January 5. Expected to be affected by Woolworths’ demise are some 27,000 of its employees.

Three other known shops in Britain have actually bit the dust. They were: music retailer Zavvi, which employed more than 3,000 people; luxury tea-sellers Whittard; and menswear retailer Officers Club. Market experts are even predicting that 25 other regional and national retail chains in Britain would soon close shop by the end of next month.

So there goes the season of giving in the world’s economic heavyweights as the holiday shopping gloom in the US and Britain brought about by the unprecedented economic crisis weighed heavily on their shopkeepers’ backs.

But lo and behold, everything’s all rosy here in the local front. Here, big shot retailers have all the reason to be merry, and that’s because of the army of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) scattered all over the world.


SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) has reported that their earnings for the third quarter of 2008 registered an increase of 7.3% or a whopping P3.618 billion compared to last year’s P3.373 billion.

In the first nine months of the year alone, SM said their retail sales soared to as high as 20% or P81.9 billion, while their consolidated revenues have also expanded 16.9 percent to P97.4 billion.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has also reported that just last year, the SM fleet of malls sold more than 21 million pairs of shoes, 50 million kilos of chicken, more than a million umbrellas, 18 million movie tickets and served 400 million meals to more than 900 million shoppers.

henry-syThis is why SM’s owner, billionaire Henry Sy, doesn’t seem to miss out on the yearly Christmas cheer (unlike his fellow shopkeepers in the US and UK). And this isn’t because he’s always on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, mind you.

Mr. Sy’s mall empire is built from the combination of his sheer capitalist greed and freeloading mindset characterized in the exploitation of his army of lowly-paid, docile contractual workers and, of course, his parasitical slant towards the massive migration of Filipinos overseas.

Yes folks, Sy is in fact benefiting big time from the government’s systematic export of OFWs abroad by providing the millions of remittance-dependent families here venues where they can spend their relatives’ hard-earned cash.

If not for the government’s unrestrained labor export program which undoubtedly is the primary source of money fuelling consumer spending here in the country, Sy wouldn’t be crazy rich as he is right now and would probably still be selling shoes in his humble shoe store in downtown Manila.

Sy began expansion of his mall empire during the early eighties at the height of massive deployment of Filipinos abroad. From 372,784 Filipinos deployed in the year 1985, the same year the first SM mall in North EDSA Quezon City was opened, the government now exports more than a million OFWs annually with deployment in the first 11 months of 2008 reaching 1.221 million.

Over the years we now have ten million OFWs in 190 countries worldwide. They remit an average of a billion dollars a month with the year 2007 registering a record high OFW remittance of US$14.45 billion. If this isn’t the same money Filipinos use to buy wares sold in all of Sy’s SM malls, I don’t know what is.

So, after opening his first shoe store in Manila in 1958; Sy now owns a fleet of 33 department stores, 24 supermarkets, 13 SaveMore branches, 13 SM Hypermarkets and 15 Makro outlets. He also owns the third largest mall on Earth (SM City North EDSA) and 3 SM malls in China.

So what? Some of you might ask. Sy, like the government, just saw an opportunity in the business of exporting humans given his superior entrepreneurial skills.

It’s downright parasitic that’s what!

While we have ten million OFWs doing mostly dirty, difficult, degrading and dangerous jobs worldwide; here’s Sy raking in billions from their sweat and blood.

If you think this big bourgeois comprador is already satisfied in cornering billions of OFW money via his ever expanding mall empire, think again. Mr. Sy too has ventured into real estate hoping to cash-in on the OFW property buying boom.

In the first half of the year alone, Sy’s real estate arm, SM Development Corp. has disclosed that they have pre-sold 1,458 housing units worth P2.5 billion. The company also has five on going housing projects in Quezon City, Paranaque and Muntinlupa; and another five condominium projects within the Metropolis and Tagaytay. According to SM Investments Corp., revenues in their real estate operations surged to almost a hundred fold with sales of up to P4.2 billion.

Sy has also gone banking just recently, and guess what? It’s OFW money that he’s after…again.

When 90% of OFW remittances were coursed through Philippine banking channels in the year 2006, the ever enterprising Sy set out to corner OFW remittances by merging his bank, Banco de Oro Universal Bank (BDO), with Equitable PCI Bank.

Thanks to BDO’s aggressive promotions trained at the OFW and their families’ market, it has now become one of the leading players in the Philippine remittance business. It has also become the second largest bank in the country in terms of assets, second in terms of loans and third in terms of deposits.

But despite the outrageous amount of money he has blood sucked from our OFWs throughout the years, we have yet to see Mr. Sy who is now in the twilight of his years give-back to the sector who’s the guilty party behind his rags to riches story.

So it is in the spirit of the incoming New Year that I suggest the following New Year’s Resolutions for Mr. Sy.

  1. Scrap remittance charges and fees in all BDO branches.
  2. Give special discounts for OFWs and their families in all SM malls.
  3. Provide scholarships to OFW dependents.
  4. Hand out livelihood packages to poor but deserving OFW families.
  5. Help in repatriating the thousands of stranded OFWs especially in the Middle East by paying for their airfare.
  6. Sponsor the blood money for OFWs languishing in Middle East’s death row.

Have a happy new year everyone!

Swerving Millions

609px-sm_logo1Retail giant SM super malls is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark this special occasion, they decided to adapt the theme “Serving Millions” .

The PDI staff did an interesting short article on SM’s golden anniversary.

Want to know how many pairs of shoes were sold by the SM Department Stores in 2007? More than 21 million. How many people came to SM malls during the same period? More than 900 million. How many meals were served in SM food courts and restaurants? Over 400 million. How many moviegoers relaxed and watched movies at SM Cinemas? More than 18 million.

Wait there’s more.

Last year, 50 million kilos of chicken filled SM Supermarket customers’ shopping carts. More than a million umbrellas were sold by SM Department Stores and about 15 million Christmas lights and ornaments from SM brightened up Filipino homes over the holidays last year.

Needless to say, all this riches made SM’s owner, mall magnate Henry Sy, the wealthiest man in the country. Forbes Magazine has revealed that the man is now worth 3.1 billion dollars, earning him a spot in the prestigious magazine’s Global Billionaires List.

But there seems to be no stopping Sy to amassing more wealth. Just this month, SM opened another supermarket branch in Cubao, bringing the number of SM stores in the country to 98.

According to SM, its fleet of malls is now comprised of 33 department stores, 24 supermarkets, 13 SaveMore branches, 13 SM Hypermarkets and 15 Makro outlets. There are also 3 SM malls in China.

Sy also owns the third largest mall in the world, SM City North EDSA – a 4.5 million square foot stretch of shopping dreamland in the heart of Quezon City.

“SM retail will continue to increase its presence nationwide,” SM Investments president Harley Sy said.

“This reiterates SM’s sustained commitment to the Philippine economy and its potential to deliver long-term growth and expansion amid short-term challenges posed by the global crisis.”

The younger Sy isn’t kidding. In fact, SM is set to conquer Bicolandia, opening a mall there by March next year. So this early, the Naga City Public Employment Service Office couldn’t contain its excitement for the mall’s scheduled opening.

NCPESO manager Florencio Mongoso has stated that SM Naga would be needing 4,000 workers to man its stores,which he said is good news to for his city’s 160,000 inhabitants.

He noted that an estimated P12 million would be injected to the local economy through workers’ salaries and another P40 million in city taxes.

But of course, Mongoso failed to point out that the 4 thousand jobs in SM Naga will only be good for three to six months. Same goes to all of SM’s 98 super stores, as a matter of fact.

The SM fleet of malls now has over 30,000 contractual employees throughout the country. Management prefers to call them “trainees.” They are hired through a recruitment firm which is connected to the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

Apparently, SM management prefers INC members because they are disallowed to join unions. No wonder only a measly 2,000 of its entire workforce are unionized.

This means SM actually hires as high as 120,000 workers per year because they fire 30,000 workers every three to six months.

These deplorable conditions – job insecurity, union busting, low pay – has triggered four workers’ strikes by SM workers since the 1990s. The last one was staged in the middle of 2003.

I was among the hundreds of supporters who showed up to defend the picketlines in the now 3rd largest mall on Earth. I remember SM unleashed hired goons that time to drive away the strikers and their supporters by violently dispersing the crowd using 2 by 2 sticks and rocks hauled in steel carts.

Of course, the strikers fought back using their placards and flag poles. I saw one throwing duhat (black plum) to the flanked goons whose white shirts were stained permanent because of the pesky black fruit.

SM Strike (Bulatlat photo)

Striking SM workers (Bulatlat photo)

Militant womens’ group Gabriela supported the SM workers’ strike back in 2003. They said the workers, almost all of them women, suffer “exploitative” working conditions from the hands of the SM management owned by the “Contractualization King” Henry Sy.

As patrons and consumers of Shoemart, GABRIELA is one with the struggle of the women workers who comprise 85% of the labor force. They spend the whole day on their feet, loyally serving SM customers and bringing in billions of pesos in profit for Mr. Sy in exchange for low wages, job insecurity, and inhuman working conditions. In particular, we deplore the working condition in which women are made to wear short skirts and two-inch high heels all day. They have to secure a pass before they can go to the comfort room for only 3-5 minutes. Pregnant women are not even provided with seats so they can rest occasionally.

Such exploitative conditions are experienced not only by regular workers but also by the majority of women contractual workers or trainees whose fair skin and “pleasing personality” are used as added attraction for the merchandise they are selling. They are made to stand up for eightstraight hours, greeting and assisting customers while wearing permanent smiles plastered on their faces. For all these, they get nothing more than minimum wage, no benefits and are not even allowed to join the union. Worse, the SM management treats them like merchandise that has to be dispensed with before the six months “expiry date.”

There. So, as we do our Christmas shopping in one of SM’s malls in the country, May I ask everyone to think about the plight of its workers whose measly wages and inhuman conditions in the workplace pays for the continued expansion of Henry Sy’s mall empire and is, undoubtedly, a major factor in the tycoon’s amassing of staggering wealth.

Let us also support workers’ calls for the scrapping of contractualization of labor which is considered to be the worst thing to ever hit Filipino workers apart of course from low pay and other labor woes.

And oh, just so you know, the Arroyo regime in effect legitimized the practice of labor contractualization when it passed DOLE Order No. 10-97 which provided a list of of jobs where contractualization is deemed legal.

Happy Christmas to all!