CSR Watch: Walmart Expands Social Responsibility Commitments

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Walmart food bank truck

Walmart may be fighting with Amazon for the future of e-commerce, but in the meantime the nation’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer has to keep an eye on its other flank: its reputation. That’s one reason why Walmart continues to support and launch new corporate responsibility programs, which it does at an almost dizzying pace. It’s not only good for business and for its reputation in the community it serves, but with its stakeholders including officials, suppliers, employees and customers by making good on the “live better” part of its “Save Money. Live Better” tagline.

For example, the chain just launched a campaign called “Fight Hunger. Spark Change” with Discover card and five leading CPG companies: General Mills, Kellogg, Campbell Soup Co., Kraft Heinz and PepsiCo. The partners will help food banks as consumers participate through purchases, liking and sharing social-media content, and donating at the register.

Also, Walmart joined eight other companies in collaborating to track and report sourcing from self-identified and certified women-owned businesses over the next five years. The nine organizations, which includes Coca-Cola, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Mondelez, PepsiCo and P&G, hope the move will “raise awareness for the importance of sourcing from women-owned businesses,” according to a Walmart press release. The move supports Walmart’s involvement in the 2017 Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit.

The company also supports young entrepreneurs via the 2017 McGinnis Venture Competition at Carnegie Mellon University, for which Walmart is the sole sponsor. When corporations and student startups collaborate, the result is funding, mentorship and innovation to name a few. Students of all backgrounds compete for $60,000 in funding by pitching their companies and ideas to a panel of judges, including Walmart leaders.

“Creating economic opportunity and growth is central to who we are as a company,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon stated. “Our customers care where products are sourced, and we believe supporting women-owned businesses helps us put innovative products on our shelves while helping these businesses thrive and grow.”

On the environmental sustainability front, which it updates annually in its Global Responsibility Report—just released ahead of Earth Day—Walmart’s 2017 Sustainability Milestone Summit invites key suppliers, nongovernment organizations and others to a face-to-face meeting to help the retailer reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across supply chains via Project Gigaton.

Walmart announced the initiative last year, inviting suppliers to join Walmart in committing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from their operations and supply chains. Project Gigaton just released an “emissions reduction toolkit” to its broad network of suppliers in its bid to eliminate one gigaton of emissions from areas such as manufacturing and materials by 2030.

Walmart Project Gigaton CSR sustainability

Walmart calls Project Gigaton one “part of a series of Walmart sustainability initiatives, focused on addressing social and environmental issues in ways that hep communities while also strengthening business.” This includes, for instance, Walmart’s investments in solar energy that help “support jobs for American solar companies.”

Increasingly, such initiatives are all in a day’s work for a chain that has taken CSR more seriously every year, especially under McMillon and also under his predecessor, Michael Duke.

This shift came after the chain survived decades of opprobrium from political progressives as it grew rapidly, challenging small retailers in town after town across America and then the world at the same time that it padded the wallets of average consumers with big price savings. Its very size and roots in the socially conservative hustings also drew uncommon attention to Walmart practices, ranging from its approach to environmental preservation to its treatment of women employees.

Many progressives found Walmart wanting in those and other areas. Politically-based objections to Walmart crescendoed in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court considered a lawsuit that alleged widespread discrimination by the company against its female employees, but the Court ruled 5-4 that the plaintiffs hadn’t established sufficient justification for class action.

Those days behind it, Walmart is more eager than ever to use its platform and clout to improve the lives and communities it touches.

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