Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Wal-Mart comes out fighting over its responsibility record

March 2005

Wal-Mart is challenging ‘urban myths’ about the retailer’s lack of social responsibility in a nationwide US advertising campaign.

The world’s largest retailer says the placing of full-page advertisements in 100 newspapers marks a significant shift in its communications policy. ‘We’re quite simply tired of people saying things about us that aren’t true... and we decided it was time to fight back,’ Wal-Mart spokesperson Amy Wyatt told EP. ‘We wanted to put facts out there, so that people could decide for themselves whether we were a company that they would want to work for or a place where they would want to shop.’

The company has set up a website dealing with persistent allegations of poor working conditions and sex discrimination. It points out that Wal-Mart has established a department to monitor the diversity of its workforce, that its average hourly wage for US full-time employees is $9.68 (£5.25), almost double the federal minimum, and that the average full-time wage in urban areas is ‘slightly higher’ than the national average.

However, communications specialists generally doubt whether the campaign in its present form will calm hostile public opinion.

‘Real questions persist about how to put a message around [CSR] in a way that makes sense and doesn’t raise new questions,’ said Matt Hirschland of the US-based Business for Social Responsibility. ‘It’s always important for companies to tell their own stories, but they have to be rooted in what’s going on in reality and to be verifiable and transparent.’

Chris Devi, senior vice-president of the communications group Edelman, is equally cautious about Wal-Mart’s new approach. He believes the retailer should concentrate instead on winning the hearts and minds of its 1.6 million employees with ‘proactive and prescriptive’ guidance on responsible conduct.

‘They [Wal-Mart] are placing a disproportionate amount of their time, energy and focus on external communications, where they are not going to move the needle as much as they could if they focused on internal communications,’ Devi told EP.

Further Information
3BL Media News
Sign up for Free e-news
Report Alerts
Job Vacancies
Events Updates
Best Practice Newsletter