Wal-Mart's dirty laundry is getting more global exposure today just a week after the Debbie Shank story. It has not been a good month for Wal-Mart public relations. To use a sports term, these are turnovers, and they expose the weaknesses of Wal-Mart's high priced image.
When Wal-Mart Watch started we promised to tell a new more truthful story about the company. In doing so, we have often been critical of Wal-Mart but we have also been willing to applaud when they took steps in the right direction.
Undeniably, over the past three years Wal-Mart has gotten better at hiding the truth from us and from the media usually by obfuscating rather than clarifying the real issues. Their so-called health care reform is just one example. And thanks to the millions they are spending on Edelman Public Relations, they have received some good coverage in the media.
Occasionally though, they fumble the ball and we get to see clearly what is behind the façade. The video of Wal-Mart managers dressed in drag aired on NBC Nightly News last night (April 9, 2008) is a great example.
From Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the largest class-action employment discrimination case in American history, we know that at Wal-Mart, women make up only 37% of Assistant Managers, 21% of Co-Managers, and 15% of Store Managers. In 2001, those women who did become salaried Wal-Mart managers earned about $14,500 less than men per year. So it is no surprise that a gathering of Wal-Mart managers would be rife with sexist undertones.
Wal-Mart might suggest that the performances featured in the footage from this 1995 meeting intended to be funny, but either they value women or they do not and discriminating against women is no joking matter.
Debbie Shank is another good example of why public relations is not enough to fix Wal-Mart's fundamental problems. Every day Wal-Mart refuses to put enough money forward to adequately fund their employees health care, and associates pay the price. Obviously Debbie Shank is a particularly tragic story but if you talk to Wal-Mart employees, as we do every day, you realize that there are many sad stories of people who have not received the medical care they need because the plan that they can afford from Wal-Mart provides minimalist coverage and the better plans are just too expensive.
At Wal-Mart Watch we work hard to encourage Wal-Mart to change its business practices because we believe it is in the best interest of its employees, its customers, its bottom line and our country. Wal-Mart has pushed back suggesting that our critiques are at best unnecessary and at worst unfair. The videos and the Debbie Shank story have exposed better than we ever could what we have been saying all along, that the leadership of Wal-Mart allows and even encourages a corporate culture of negligence and discrimination. It is not in anyone's best interests for such a culture to continue. Wal-Mart needs to change.