New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
Resolution: Global Human Rights Standards
Rev. Baird's Statement at the Walmart Meeting
REFLECTIONS: POWER IN THE PROCESS Remarks by Rev. Rhett D. Baird, Minister UU Fellowship of Fayetteville, AR prepared September 8, 2002, at the request of the Unitarian Universalist Association
I was honored to have been asked to represent the New York City Comptroller
and the New York City Pension Funds at the annual shareholders meeting of
Wal-Mart in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on June 7, 2002. The pension fund owns
I was especially proud to be associated with the specific resolution, known
as the "Global Human Rights Standards" resolution. It is my understanding that
the resolution attracted sufficient votes (almost 4% in favor, 3% abstaining and
93% against) enabling the resolution to return next year as an item of business
on the shareholder meeting agenda in June 2003, if it is the wish of the
sponsor. It is certainly my hope that it will be introduced next year and I will
be happy to again introduce the resolution if I am asked.
This was an extraordinary opportunity for a Unitarian Universalist social
justice public witness and I was grateful for the opportunity:
I will report that I was courteously received at the meeting site by
representatives of the legal department of Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville,
Arkansas, just north of Fayetteville. I was treated honorably and, I believe,
taken seriously. But, of course, one would expect such treatment if one is
representing over 10,000,000 shares.
The meeting was held on the campus of the University of Arkansas in the
basketball arena, one of the few places in Northwest Arkansas with a seating
capacity sufficient to accommodate the shareholders. It was a packed crowd that
day. Events began at 7 a.m. prior to the beginning of the official stockholder’s
meeting. Included in the early morning happenings was a parade-like event, with
employee representatives from Wal-Mart stores all over the world entering the
arena with their country’s flag and music rooted in that tradition or culture or
No matter who you were and what your agenda was that morning, the experience
described above was akin, for me, to a convocation of a mini-United Nations. A
little less dignified perhaps and a little more upbeat, almost to the point of
cheers. But certainly, on balance, a deeply moving experience. A visual
experience that, for me, was deeply symbolic of hope...of hope that, maybe, just
maybe, the diverse cultures that make up our blue globe hanging in space may
find new and healthy ways to work together, to honor our differences and our
commonalties, and to care for our earth together.
When my turn came to be on the agenda, I was welcomed and introduced by the
Chairman of the Board. I read a prepared
statement within the guidelines of the three minute time limit. A difficult
task for a preacher, to be sure. When I concluded, the General Counsel for
Wal-Mart responded to me on behalf of the Board of Directors. It felt like a
personal conversation with 25,000 people listening in and watching our gigantic
images on these massive screens used during the meeting which enabled the
presenters to be seen by all in attendance. At the conclusion of his remarks, he
said that the board recommends that the shareholders vote against the
Regardless of the outcome, the subject was taken seriously. The subject was
on the table. The subject will return. It will invite people to think. To define
their own values more clearly. To better inform themselves. To act on their own
values. To participate in shaping the corporate values of Wal-Mart and the
policies that impact and influence lives the world over.
In addition to reviewing the resolution that was introduced and the remarks
made by me on that occasion, readers of this web-page may find it informative to
review the ten page report on this webpage entitled Social Issues Service 2002
Company Report - A Wal-Mart Global Labor Standards by Peter DeSimone, dated May
10, 2002, bearing a copyright by Investor Responsibility Research Center. This
was provided to me an informational item by the New York City Comptroller’s
Office. I found it to be a valuable educative tool for myself in understanding
of the complex issues involved.
Although I never met Sam Walton, I have been aware for many years that he and
I were fraternity brothers, in Beta Theta Pi, Sam at Missouri and I at Emory
University in Atlanta. It is, indeed, a small world, and I could not close this
piece without noting that connection and honoring the founder of Wal-Mart.
Rev. Rhett D. Baird, rbaird @ uark.eduStudy:
For more information contact responsibleinvesting @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.
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