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Let's Hear A Better Story

   

Dutchess County Barn 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.

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