The New York Times
September 14, 2004
Wal-Mart's New Spin
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest company, says it wants to improve
its image both by doing a better job of getting its message out
and by being more willing to "compromise." This new
approach makes sense, given the charges that have been hurled
against the company recently. But if Wal-Mart wants to improve
its image, it should focus less on shaping its message and more
on changing the way it does business.
Wal-Mart's chief executive, Lee Scott Jr., said last week that
his company was getting a bad rap from newspapers and television.
Wal-Mart, a spokeswoman said, wants to do a better job "telling
our story." In the same talk, Mr. Scott said that when Wal-Mart
was criticized in the future, "where appropriate, we will
compromise." That concession might not sound like much, but
it is notable coming from Wal-Mart, which is known for digging
in its heels against things like union organizing drives and communities'
resistance to its expansion plans.
Wal-Mart admitted earlier this year that it had routinely locked
in its stores' overnight workers. Last year, the federal government
rounded up illegal immigrants working as janitors in 60 Wal-Mart
stores in 21 states, and it began investigating whether the company
knew that its janitorial contractors were using undocumented workers.
Wal-Mart made headlines this summer when it was sued in the largest
sex-discrimination case in history, brought on behalf of about
1.6 million current and former female employees. And in California's
recent supermarket strike, the big grocery chains said they had
been forced to cut health benefits and create a lower wage tier
to compete with Wal-Mart.
These damaging news stories are not a product of bad spin, but
bad facts. If Wal-Mart wants to do a better job in telling its
story, it needs to work on having a better story to tell.