Thursday, September 09, 2004

Wal-Mart Seeks to Boost Image

Wal-Mart in offensive to boost image
By Neil Buckley in New York
Published: September 8 2004 19:11 | Last updated: September 8 2004 19:11

Wal-Mart vowed to go on the offensive to protect its reputation from critics of its business and labour practices, and said growing opposition would not slow its growth.
Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive, told a Goldman Sachs retail conference in New York that the world's largest company was engaged in an “outreach programme” to get its story across.
The company has faced growing publicity over the past year over its poor pay and benefits for workers. It has also met increased opposition to new stores - often organised by labour unions - particularly as it expands into urban areas.
It faces a series of lawsuits, including a sex discrimination suit involving up to 1.6m women that could be the biggest civil rights class action against a US private employer. Other suits allege that it forced staff to work unpaid overtime.
“We have got to eliminate this constant barrage of negatives . . . that cause people to wonder [whether] Wal-Mart was going to be allowed to grow. Because, clearly, the customer is going to allow us to grow,” Mr Scott said.
“We have not got our story out to the extent that we need to,” he said. “We as a company have failed to tell people that we in fact don't have a majority of part-time jobs - almost 80 per cent of our jobs are full-time jobs. We don't pay the minimum wage. We spent $2bn in health benefits last year.”
He admitted that, with 1.5m employees, Wal-Mart needed to make a culture change from the days when Sam Walton, the retailer's founder, ran the company, and clamp down harder on any employee wrongdoing.
Mr Scott added that the company would analyse all criticism, and make changes if criticism was justified.
“Where we get criticism that is simply wrong, we are going to fight it,” he said.
The Wal-Mart chief said it was important to get its message across to people who did not live near a Wal-Mart store and did not know the company.
“A different group of stakeholders is important to us - people who are not familiar with Wal-Mart stores, so their view of Wal-Mart is what they read in the newspapers or see on TV.”
But Mr Scott said opposition to store openings was not slowing its expansion. It was on track to open 230 or 240 new stores this year and would open more than that next year. He added Wal-Mart had not changed its optimistic outlook for the Christmas shopping season in spite of weaker-than-expected August sales.