Walmart Announces Emission Reduction Plan; Can They Achieve Sustainability?

On February 25, Walmart announced their emissions reduction initiative and promised to to eliminate 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from life cycle of products they sell around world by 2015.  This announcement is a big one, considering Walmart’s supply chain contributes to 90% of the company’s carbon footprint and has more than 3,000 stores in the U.S. and almost 1,300 International operations.

Walmart CEO Mike Duke said, “We will be a leader in retail, because we will be first to take a look at the supply chain on a global scale.”  Walmart’s CEO also called for a comprehensive legislative policy that addresses energy, energy security, the country’s competitiveness as well as reducing pollution.  He continued,  “Our GHG goal will be measurable and will be done in partnership with our suppliers.”

Walmart has been making significant strides in over sustainability for the company including initiatives such as solar energy sources on stores, obtaining power from wind-based electricity, refilling laundry detergent bottles instead of new packaging, eliminating plastic bags and offering sustainable food and goods.  However, there is some debate as to whether Walmart will ever be able to call themselves leaders in corporate sustainability.  Widely known for their questionable labor practices, Walmart faces harsh criticism from labor groups (for good reason) and constantly faces threats of unionization from many store workers.

From the People’s Voice.org:

With over $400 billion in sales and about 2.1 million employees, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer and private employer, and number three globally in the 2009 Fortune 500 rankings behind Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon.

On December 16, 2009, NLC reported that “Wal-Mart’s Punitive Policies Drive Employees to Work Sick – Everyone comes to work sick.”

A deli section worker in a Pennsylvania company supercenter said:

“Everyone comes to work sick,” including employees handling food. In the deli section, “plenty of girls come coughing their brains out, but can’t go home because of points (unless they’re) coughing too loudly (in which case they) switch you to another department. Since you can’t take days off,” she kept working. Her cough worsened, and she ended up hospitalized with pneumonia.

“You can’t stay home, and God forbid if you have to leave early.” For being hospitalized, she got a demerit, lost eight hours pay, and was required to take a leave of absence. Being sick, deli section work was hard because it’s a “hot area,” requiring in and out visits to a freezer to get meat.

Walmart has a long list of unfair labor practices, including

  • half of their employees get no health insurance, and those with it pay a large percentage of the cost and receive too little; and
  • The company has a long, disturbing record of worker abuse, including forced overtime, some off-the-clock, illegal child and undocumented worker labor, and relentless union-busting; as a result, Wal-Mart faces numerous suits over unpaid overtime, denial of meal and rest breaks, manipulating time and wage records to cut costs, employing minors during school hours, and the largest ever class action discrimination lawsuit, involving over 1.5 million present and former female employees, paid less and promoted less often than their male counterparts.

In December 2008, Wal-Mart agreed to pay at least $352 million and up to $640 million to settle 63 federal and state class-action lawsuits from present and former employees over pay and other issues. According to Professor Paul Secunda of Marquette’s School of Law, the company settled to avoid an even worse defeat, including what unionization might cost.

Overall, Wal-Mart treats employees punitively. They’re overworked, underpaid, (many below the federal poverty line), denied benefits, discriminated against, punished for the slightest infraction, and treated like wage slaves.

We have to remember that in order to be sustainable, a company must take into account people, the planet and profits – Walmart is arguably neglecting the first pretty severely.  Building a happy, healthy community and paying a living wage are the very bare minimum of what should be required for a company whose profits are recorded at over $400 billion and climbing.

Carbon emission reduction is noteworthy as are sustainable global supply chain initiatives – but Walmart has a long way to go before they can consider themselves sustainable.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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