June 30, 2004

Differing Directions

This particular article in the Business section within today's edition of the New York Times caught my attention for obvious reasons: i.e., since it focuses on as well as examines certain complex social and cultural issues and their interplay both within and without the world that would be Wal-Mart.

Of course this definitely makes its a must-read, at least in my opinion.

Social Issues Tug Wal-Mart in Differing Directions

By CONSTANCE L. HAYS

Published: June 30, 2004

After a judge's ruling, announced last week, gave class-action status to a federal sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, the company's management broadcast a two-part message to its one million employees over the television monitors that hang from store ceilings.

First, employees were told that the ruling means "that there was no finding of guilt and it was all about the class, but that we even disagree with that and are going to appeal it,'' said Jay Allen, a company spokesman. Then there was a second part: "When this is all over with, this company is going to be a better company for it."

Lately, it's been hard to tell what kind of company Wal-Mart plans to become. On one hand, it bans certain magazines from its stores, vigorously fights matters ranging from shareholder proposals to federal lawsuits, and justifies strategies by quoting its long-dead founder in the obsolete manner of Chinese quoting Chairman Mao.

On the other hand, in the last year, Wal-Mart created an office of diversity, announced that it would protect gay workers from workplace discrimination, and pledged to promote women in the same proportion that they apply for management jobs, promising to penalize senior executives if that does not come to pass.

"They make an appropriate move, and we feel we would like to remain involved," said Julie Goodridge, president of Northstar Asset Management in Boston, a money manager emphasizing social responsibility that owns 6,455 Wal-Mart shares and has contemplated selling them. She praised the company for taking action like its nondiscrimination policy toward gay employees. Other moves, like banning magazine titles, "make me feel like, 'what am I, out of my mind?' " Mrs. Goodridge said.

The seesawing suggests that Wal-Mart's prolonged transition from Samuel L. Walton's personal project to giant global corporation has reached a critical stage. Since 1992, the year Mr. Walton - known as Mr. Sam - died, Wal-Mart has had to make its way without the founder and visionary who turned a single five-and-dime into a retailing megalith.

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Read the rest of the article, here.

Posted by Morgan on June, 30 2004 at 10:54 AM