Wal-Mart Pledges Billions To Business Women

Walmart publishes pro-women iniativesWal-Mart's reputation among women has taken a battering in the last decade, embroiled in a class action lawsuit on behalf of 1.6 million female employees, the biggest civil rights case in history.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately rejected the suit this summer. The female workers didn't have enough in common, according to the decision, to represent a class of people.

But women in general do have something in common. They are, by and large, the primary shoppers for their families, and the majority of Wal-Mart Inc.'s 200 million weekly customers. Wal-Mart knows this, and on Wednesday, published an extensive set of pro-woman initiatives. It seems that Wal-Mart women may not be a class enough to harm, but they are a class enough to help.

The world's biggest private employer has set five goals to "help empower women across its supply chain." Wal-Mart will first buy more from women, and buy a lot. The store intends to put $20 billion (more than the GDP of Estonia) into the pockets of female-owned businesses in the U.S. over the next five years, and to double its sourcing from women suppliers internationally. And for the women working in the factories and farms of those suppliers? Wal-Mart plans to train and empower 60,000 of them.

Women who work for Wal-Mart or might work for Wal-Mart? Thanks to the company, 200,000 of them in the U.S. and another 200,000 around the world will get training and education. Women who have some contact with Wal-Mart in a professional service capacity? There'll be more of them. Wal-Mart will pressure companies to put more women and minorities on their accounts. And women who have nothing do to do with Wal-Mart? They might benefit from the $100 million in grants that the company is giving away to female empowerment organizations.

It's extraordinarily generous and exceptionally timed, although Wal-Mart claims the campaign has nothing to do with the decade-long, hyper-public case against the company, and the fact that many of the women involved in the suit may still pursue individual claims of discrimination.

Some critics scoff and say that the move is mere window-dressing, distracting from Wal-Mart's poor treatment of its employees, particularly female ones. "Wal-Mart keeps millions of women in the U.S. and around the world in poverty, fails to protect women from unacceptable sexual and other forms of workplace harassment, and works many women to the bone in sweatshop conditions around the globe," writes Jennifer Stapleton in a statement for the group Making Change at Wal-Mart.

This isn't Wal-Mart's first public act of reform this year. In January, the store announced that it would lower salt, fat and sugar in thousands of its products, inspired by Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative. Also in concert with the First Lady, Wal-Mart announced its plans to open 300 stores in America's "food deserts," areas where you pretty much have to drive for miles to find a carrot stick.

This latter move drew some criticism from food movement activists, who claim that independent grocery stores, which keep more cents per dollar in the community, should be fostered over a multinational chain with labor practices that have been questioned by President Obama himself.

Wal-Mart isn't the first food provider to recognize that courting women is good business. Earlier this year, the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board began training female farmers as spokeswomen. Behind the scenes, however, the boards of the five largest lobby organizations, which represent the five largest commodity crops, are only 1.3 percent female. Wal-Mart's a little better. It's board is three women, 12 men.

Regardless of Wal-Mart's motivations, the campaign will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of women. This doesn't mean, however, that its own female employees won't have things to complain about.

Next: Female Farmers: The New Food Industry Frontier



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Claire Gordon

Staff Writer

Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

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IRVING

Now affirmative action hits the major player in the private sector. Walmart made some stupid mistakes in the past we all agree, does that mean that we allow them to sacrifice yet another generation of young white males on the altar of political correctness?

September 19 2011 at 6:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Guten Tag Irmy

wow......

September 19 2011 at 5:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sylvie

Discrimination of any kind exists only on the level of the individual - not in terms of groups. By giving favorable treatment to a person because of their gender, race, nationality, etc. is illegal in the hiring process, but I guess walMart can spend their money any way they want to. When will the public wake up to this form of blatant discrimination based on political goals and misconceptions of the term "equality?"

September 19 2011 at 4:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gbelter777

Something fishy about Walmart. Shopping there is like waiting to leave a wake.

September 19 2011 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ttruckr23

So,as a white male, I'm gonna get a class action organized and cash in too. I could use the bucks..... to spend at.... Walmart!

I'm curious as to how Walmart is gonna get all those Chinese women into the US that work for their suppliers over yonder. Lord knows they won't find 50,000 of 'em here in the US as they hardly source anything here anymore!

September 18 2011 at 9:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ttruckr23's comment
serenitynow26

So once again men get screwed while only women get free education and training. Only women get federal funding for things like domestic violence, health issues and now feminist groups get more funding from Walmart to increase their male bashing policies and male hating rhetoric.. I will no longer ever buy from Walmart. I hope other men will stop shopping there.

September 18 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
THE KRUZIKS ROCK

just like walmart to over react

September 18 2011 at 9:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jjkrjw

Watch out for meat. If it isn't from the U.S. or Canada, don't buy it. You might think this is a joke but many countries are selling "glued" meat. Sounds absurd, I know, but scraps are literally glued together with some kind of edible compound. And it is not outlawed in the U.S. I watched a video on it and perhaps others here have seen it, too. It won't just be Wal-Mart that might sell it; it could be sold anywhere.

September 18 2011 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jjkrjw's comment
kesac

And some people will fall for anything they see on the Internet, won't they?

September 18 2011 at 10:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
matt1960

THE MERCHANT OF DEATH! AND P.S. MS GORDON YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!

September 18 2011 at 7:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
laurit29

Would not shop at Walmart or Sams if it was the last store on earth.

September 18 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to laurit29's comment
dirgraphic

Your choice. I shop at both and get good values. I also shop at Target and Trader Joe's in California.

September 18 2011 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dirgraphic's comment
seattlewkr

Of course there's good values. You're saving with money the employees should be getting and taking the food out of their kids' mouths.

September 18 2011 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Jennifer Malcom

Wow...wonderful, and yet, they will still continue to treat their employees worse than we treat the illegals! If i could afford to avoid Walmart, i would...I hate Walmart, but they are the cheapest, though I don't buy much other than food from them.

September 18 2011 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jennifer Malcom's comment
Larry Engel

do you work for walmart?

September 18 2011 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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