Starting off with Sam Walton’s idea of low prices in the 1940s, Wal-Mart has
since then become the world’s largest public corporation, topping the list of Fortune’s
Global 500 for the sixth time in seven years.
With headquarters in Bentonville,
Arkansas, this retail giant has over 2 million employees worldwide, with 1.4 million
within the United States alone, making it one of the largest private employers in the
(For Corporate Fact Sheet see Appendix A).
As with any global corporation, Wal-Mart engages in multiple and complex
relationships with a number of different stakeholders. Labor unions, environmentalist
groups, grassroots organizations, religious groups and community members have
criticized Wal-Mart for its perceived lack of concern in its current business practices and
policies. Complaints have included unequal employment opportunities to lack of health
insurance leading to lawsuits, which were close to 5,000 in 2000.
The opposition came
to a head in 2005, as two advocacy groups specifically targeting Wal-Mart were formed
in spring 2005 to unite disgruntled community members: Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union
group backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Wal-Mart Watch, a
joint project of the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics. The mission of both
groups was to cause the corporation to improve its practices for its employees, its
customers, and the surrounding communities in a more ethical and acceptable way.
A documentary directed by Robert Greenwald,
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low
, was released on November 4, 2005, which was highly critical. Through a series of
interviews and video footage interspersed with statistics, Greenwald attempted to depict
the unethical business practices Wal-Mart implemented on a daily basis and the negative
effects these practices had on employees and small business owners. A study on the
impact of Wal-Mart supercenters in rural communities found that small towns can lose up
to 47 percent of their retail trade as soon as 10 years after the establishment of a Wal-
Wal-Mart soon found itself witnessing the repercussions of this negative
coverage. By November 2006, Wal-Mart’s stock was down 30 percent since 2000, and its
sales growth slowed to 1.5 percent in the third quarter, compared to the 4.6 percent