By Rev. Jonalu Johnstone
Amid aerial dancers and drummers (yes, drummers suspended by
ropes!) and cheering associates, Wal-Mart opened their annual stockholders
meeting, an extravaganza resembling a high dollar variety show crossed with a
oversized high school pep rally.
Emceed by Queen Latifah and sprinkled with performances by Joss Stone,
Jennifer Hudson, and brand new American Idol David Cook, the meeting featured
videos from stores around the world, presentations of awards and recognitions,
frequent outbreaks of the Wal-Mart cheer, and oh, yeah, some reports and
I had come to the meeting to present a proposal on behalf of
the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to add “gender identity” to the
company’s non-discrimination policy.
The proposal was among eight presented by various unions and other
stockholder organizations, nudging Wal-Mart towards more progressive
policies. Presenters were met at
their own table near the north entrance of the University of Arkansas basketball
arena, and assigned a handler who made sure they found their seat and had
whatever they needed (water, coffee, etc.).
Among the proposals were limits on executive compensation,
reporting of political contributions, and formation of a Human Rights
Committee. Presenters were taken
seriously enough that Chairman Rob Walton greeted us before we spoke, and at one
point, he even asked the audience of 20,000 to curb their conversations during
Actually, the crowd was polite during our presentations. My own heart was pounding (I had never
spoken to such a large crowd) as I saw my image projected on the screen at the
front of the stadium. My three
minutes went fine, and there was courteous applause.
Clearly, Wal-Mart has paid some attention to its
critics. They have improved
associate (employee) access to health insurance, and bragged frequently through
the meeting about environmental improvements. In fact, the winner of the Sam Walton
Entrepreneurship Award presented at the meeting was their Sustainability
I couldn’t help wondering, though, as CFO Tom Schoewe offered
his seamless, high quality, high tech financial report, what the company might
be able to do with that cash flow they’ve freed up so much of. Could they improve workers’ conditions
and salaries? Could they advance
their touted environmental goals more?
Could they ensure safe environments for workers who produce Wal-Mart
When a vote was taken on the UUA’s proposal, the resolution
received support from six percent of the shareholders. While this is a
smaller percentage than we had hoped, it is not insignificant and more than
double the amount necessary to allow us to re-file the proposal next year.
This will allow us to continue to stay engaged with this company and continue
Rev. Jonalu Johnstone
is Associate Minister of the First Unitarian Unviersalist Church of Oklahoma
City, and President of Interweave Continental, the Unitarian Universalist
organization for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender concerns.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
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Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.
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