Wal-Mart Seeks to Empower Women Factory Workers

Five-year program teaching critical life skills will be shared with other retailers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Thursday revealed the launch of a five-year program to empower 60,000 women who work in the factories it uses, teaching them critical life skills such as communication, hygiene, reproductive health, occupational health and safety.

This story first appeared in the April 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Through this program, women in the supply chain will receive the education and training they need to achieve greater success in their jobs and live a better life,” said Rajan Kamalanathan, vice president of Wal-Mart Ethical Sourcing.

Up to 8,000 women will also get leadership training. The program will help women identify personal strengths and understand gender sensitivity.

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Wal-Mart said the initiative was innovative in the retail and apparel industry since it was designed to help women at home as well as work, teaches suppliers how to sustain the program permanently and will be shared with other retailers.

The program, which was put together with the help of aid groups, will be rolled out to Bangladesh and India this year, with China and Central America coming later.

The Women in Factories program is part of the Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative that Wal-Mart’s president and chief executive officer Mike Duke laid out in September. The retailer has been criticized in the past for its treatment of its female workforce, which has sparked a number of lawsuits alleging gender discrimination. The most famous is the Betty Dukes v. Wal-Mart case, which went to the Supreme Court seeking class action but was denied and now has reverted back to cases at the local court level.

Wal-Mart, which chalked up $444 billion in sales last year, became the world’s largest retailer by squeezing cost out of the supply chain and passing on much of the savings to shoppers in the form of low prices. Ultimately, Wal-Mart sees women’s issues as a bottom-line issue.

“By educating and empowering women in factories and creating a stronger supply chain, suppliers realize greater efficiencies in their factories, which should result in higher quality products, lower prices and more reliable product availability for customers,” said Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president of Home for Wal-Mart.

Through its women’s economic empowerment program, Wal-Mart aims to source more from women-owned businesses, help women on farms and in factories and supply job training and education.