By  on November 7, 2005

WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in a move to shore up its image, attempted to answer its critics Friday with the release of several economic studies, highlighting the impact the retail giant has on prices, jobs and wages.

Maintaining it is seeking more "transparency" and balanced coverage, Wal-Mart held a tightly controlled symposium here at the J.W. Marriott Hotel and released nine independent economic studies — some of which revealed negative findings — from academics and economists.

Critics accuse Wal-Mart of depressing retail prices and wages and driving U.S. jobs overseas.

To bring their point home, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and its WakeUpWalMart.com organization staged a small protest in front of the hotel Friday and announced it was launching a new group — Wal-Mart Workers of America — and a Web site to assist workers in protecting their rights.

The groups claim Wal-Mart exploits its workers, discriminates against female employees and breaks child labor laws.

Wal-Mart has denied such claims and went on the offensive and defensive Friday at the symposium, which attracted about 75 economists, academics and journalists.

The nine studies revealed a wide range of findings that were inconsistent with one another in some areas.

"We, for a long time now, have seen a number of studies that purport to be an economic look at our company," said Bob McAdam, vice president of corporate affairs at Wal-Mart, in an interview. "Many of them are fairly narrow in their scope, look only at specific data, or start with a bias, frankly. We decided it was time to do this in the most holistic fashion we could and try to get a really good picture and do it with as much integrity and honesty as we could possibly muster."

While McAdam acknowledged the unfavorable studies, he stressed that the methodologies used in all of the studies is open for debate.

"There are studies presented this afternoon which have some items that are in some ways contrary to this [Global Insight's] study and in some ways certainly what people would consider negative," he said. "Each of these studies, I would argue, has a challenge in them — something they looked at — maybe they compared apples and oranges versus looking holistically the way Global Insight did. This is such a healthy discussion and one would hope that from this we could come up with what the standards are…and from that we can have an honest debate about what the role is that we play."

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