Ohio candidate J.D. Vance calls out Walmart for "slave labor” — and heavily invests in its stock

"Hillbilly Elegy" author says giant chain benefits from “slave labor.” That didn't stop him from buying its stock

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 17, 2021 5:50AM (EST)

JD Vance, venture capitalist and author of 'Hillbilly Elegy' (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
JD Vance, venture capitalist and author of 'Hillbilly Elegy' (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance has accused Walmart of using "slave labor" to make cheap products that undermine American jobs. But his latest personal financial disclosure shows he owns at least $50,000 in Walmart stock.

Vance, who made a fortune as a venture capitalist before writing the best-selling book "Hillbilly Elegy," submitted his personal financial disclosure last month after missing the original filing deadline. It indicates that he owns between $50,000 and $100,000 in Walmart stock. (Such disclosure forms list ranges, rather than precise amounts.)

Vance also participated in a 2017 "fireside chat" with Walmart executive Daniel Eckert to discuss business issues as well as the "populist movement" that "propelled Donald Trump into the presidency."

Now that he is seeking the Republican nomination for an open Ohio Senate seat — and hoping to land former President Donald Trump's endorsement — Vance has taken to criticizing the company and its reliance on China, which has become a popular GOP target.

During an event in Dover, Ohio, in October, Vance blamed politicians from both parties for shipping "a lot of our manufacturing base off to China."

"The thought was we get a lot of cheap stuff in return," he said. "They make it more cheaply because they were relying on slave labor. So maybe you go to Walmart and things don't cost as much. But in the process, a lot of middle-class people lost those good jobs that enabled them to support them."

RELATED: J.D. Vance leads GOP hypocrisy on "Big Tech" — while raking in cash from Silicon Valley

Vance reiterated his belief that Walmart relies on slave labor in an interview with conservative commentator Buck Sexton, accusing the company of using diversity and inclusion programs to distract from the issue.

"Who cares if you are employing Chinese slaves? Who cares if you are benefiting from the Communist Chinese Party's slave labor?" he said. "So long as you are properly woke, so long as you teach diversity, equity and inclusion at your workplace, you won't face any scrutiny, you won't face any consequences."

Walmart has faced allegations that it uses slave labor for years. The company says it has taken steps to address forced labor and ensure compliance with its responsible sourcing policies.

During an appearance in Youngstown last month, Vance argued that a "bunch of idiot leaders" decided to ship middle-class American jobs to China and "countries that hate us" in return for "a lot of cheap plastic garbage at Walmart."

This has been a theme of his Ohio campaign since he announced his candidacy in July, arguing in an op-ed that American leaders had made the indefensible choice that Americans should "be able to buy cheaper consumer goods at Walmart instead of having access to a good job."

On that issue, he has a point. An analysis by the progressive Economic Policy Institute found that Walmart's outsourcing to companies in China may have eliminated 400,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013. But in none of his campaign speeches or appearances has Vance disclosed that he is an investor in the company he accuses of killing American jobs and relying on "slave labor." A spokesman for Vance did not respond to questions from Salon.

"J.D. Vance keeps proving that he's an untrustworthy fraud," said Brad Bainum, a spokesperson for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century.

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Vance has also drawn accusations of hypocrisy over his campaign against Big Tech, which he has accused of censoring conservatives, since he has spent years investing in tech startups at his venture capital firm Narya and before that at Mithril Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member.

On the campaign trail, Vance has also tied himself in knots trying to reposition himself as a pro-Trump Republican after repeatedly bashing the former president over the past several years before deciding to run for office himself. Vance in 2016 said he could not "stomach Trump" and said his policy proposals "range from immoral to absurd." He now says he has had a change of heart and has ventured on something of an apology tour, even tagging along with Thiel — a major Trump donor who has sunk $10 million in Vance's campaign — on a trip to Mar-a-Lago seeking an audience with Trump.

Vance's campaign is also backed by the billionaire investors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who helped fund Trump's 2016 campaign and financially backed many of the players involved in stoking Trump's election lies and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

There has been little polling in the Ohio Republican primary race, which also includes former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has desperately tried to out-Trump Vance, and top Trump donor Jane Timken. Vance has consistently run behind Mandel in polls so far, although the Thiel-funded super PAC backing him has touted a recent poll showing him closing the gap.

"That's why you raise money — so you can run a real campaign and do messaging," Ohio Republican strategist Doug Preisse told Salon earlier this year about the Thiel and Mercer money flowing into the former never-Trumper's campaign. "Sometimes you gotta try to put the shit back in the horse, which is what he's probably going to have to spend some money doing."

Read more on the impending Ohio Senate race:

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

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