washingtonpost.com  > Business > Industries > Retail

Wal-Mart Rebuts Its Critics

Company Launches Major Media Campaign to Improve Its Image

By Michael Barbaro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page E01

For an executive who rarely talks with the media, it was a hectic 24 hours. After granting interviews to USA Today and the Associated Press, H. Lee Scott Jr., Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s generally low-profile chief executive, sat down for on-camera interviews yesterday with ABC, CNN, Fox and CNBC.

Anyone who somehow missed the TV blitz could have opened one of 100 newspapers across the country, from the Wall Street Journal to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and read a full-page advertisement bearing his signature. Or they could have visited a new Web site, www.walmartfacts.com, to read yet another statement from Scott.

Wal-Mart Stores chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. said his company has been maligned, and it is "time to draw our own line in the sand" on such issues as pay and benefits. (Beth Hall -- Bloomberg News)

His message, for those who did not catch it: Wal-Mart is fed up with its critics. And it's fighting back.

"For too long, others have had free rein to say things about our company that just aren't true," Scott said in statement posted on the new Web site. "Our associates are tired of it and we've decided it's time to draw our own line in the sand."

In what Scott himself called an "unusual" campaign, Wal-Mart yesterday accused "special-interest groups" of spreading "misinformation" and "half-truths" about the Bentonville, Ark.-based company, the world's largest retailer.

Wal-Mart has faced a series of challenges in the past year. In April, residents of Inglewood, Calif., voted down plans for a new Wal-Mart Superstore in a closely watched battle between the chain, local unions and neighborhood activists -- a battle now replaying itself in dozens of communities across the country.

In June, a judge certified a class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of 1.6 million current and former female employees, accusing the chain of widespread sexual discrimination.

And just two weeks ago, a judge permitted illegal immigrants, employed by contractors to clean Wal-Mart's stores, to file a class-action lawsuit against the chain for allegedly violating federal labor laws. Immigration officials raided 61 Wal-Mart stores across the country in October 2003 and arrested 250 cleaning-crew members suspected of being illegal immigrants. The arrests were part of an investigation into whether Wal-Mart or a subcontractor knowingly hired undocumented workers.

Scott did not address any of those issues directly in the newspaper ad, but he wrote, "Wal-Mart expects attention and criticism" and added that "when the criticism is warranted, we use it as tool to improve the way we operate."

To counter its critics, the chain posted on its Web site detailed data on its wages, health care plans, charitable giving and impact on the economy, with state-by-state breakdowns. (Wal-Mart's average hourly wage for full-time employees in Maryland, for example, is $9.60. In Virginia, it is $9.49. The chain has no stores in the District.)

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company