Walmart and Ethics…

Of late Walmart is the poster boy for all that is wrong with globalization – both in the US and abroad. US because it is adding tremendously to the trade deficit with China as well as throwing out the smaller enterprises out of business.. and abroad because it is not supposed to be the most stellar employer in those "sweat shops" which manufacture its stuff and other business practices. Here is a blog entry from Fast Company on this company’s efforts to promote Ethics and relationships with its stakeholders:

Wal-Mart is currently advertising to fill two new and fascinating jobs at the Bentonville home office: director of global ethics, and senior director of stakeholder engagement

The ethics job got a burst of media attention last week — Wal-Mart’s director of global ethics "plays a critical strategic role by promoting ethical behavior globally, facilitating proper decision-making, and ensuring that ethics is embedded into key business processes." The posting makes it clear the job will have its bare-knuckled Wal-Mart moments. The right candidate must be "able and willing to take a difficult or unpopular position if necessary," and the right person will maintain "rationality in tense interpersonal situations."

Having a chief of ethical business practices isn’t all that unusual — since 1992, there has been an association of people with that job. Companies from AOL Time Warner and Burger King to Clorox and Halliburton are members. As is Wal-Mart. The ethics responsibilities are not new at Wal-Mart, they are simply being put in a separate job to give them more visibility.

The much more interesting — and all new — job at Wal-Mart is the senior director of stakeholder engagement. This person, the job description says, "will help pioneer a new model of how Wal-Mart works with outside stakeholders resulting in fundamental changes in how the company does business."

It could be the beginning of realizing that "always low prices — always" isn’t even always good, even for Wal-Mart.

In The Wal-Mart Effect, while discussing Wal-Mart’s corrosive impact on Chile by its salmon-buying practices, I asked, "What if Wal-Mart imposed conditions on its suppliers that went beyond cost, efficiency, and on-time delivery? What would the ripples from that look like?…The result could be a completely new Wal-Mart effect — Wal-Mart using its enormous purchasing power not just to raise the standard of living for its customers, but also for its suppliers."

In looking for a new director of stakeholder engagement, Wal-Mart says its senior executives have spent the last year talking to "key global stakeholders to better understand their concerns, the company’s impact on the world and society, and what leadership means for Wal-Mart in the 21st century."


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