Paying decent wages would actually cost Wal-Mart and its shoppers next to nothing. So why don’t they do it?

Wal-Mart workers are speaking out — and walking out — as they last week took part in the first walkouts and strikes in the company’s history. They want fair pay and a right to organize without being retaliated against.

Some apologists for Wal-Mart argues that the chain’s bottom of the barrel wages — the average sales associate there earns $8.80, as opposed to the CEO who earns 1,167 times more — allow it to be successful and that if it paid its workers more, shoppers would stop coming.

But that just isn’t bared out by the facts. One year ago, a UC Berkeley study found that the company passed the entire cost of higher wages onto its consumers, it would cost them very little:

Using Walmart’s figures on U.S. sales and customers, we find that the average customer spendsAi??$43.95 per shopping trip, and makes 27 shopping trips per year,Ai??spending $1,187 annually at theAi??store. The 46 cent increase amounts to a 1.1 percent increase in prices. For the averageAi??shopper, this would result in a price increase of $12.49 a year.

That’s right. Presuming that the company decided to pass on all the costs of higher wages to consumers, it would cost the average shopper only $12.49 a year for all of Wal-Mart’s employees to be paid at least a living wage.

But Wal-Mart shouldn’t have to pass those costs on. It’s the world’s most prosperous employer, and it can easily pocket the cost of $12 per shopper — or an average of 46 cents per shopping trip — to pay its employees living wages without raising prices at all.

So now the ball is Wal-Mart’s court. They have no excuse for not paying their employees fairly.