Carrefour SA

PARIS – Georges Plassat met with a standing ovation from shareholders at the end of his last annual general meeting as chairman and chief executive officer of Carrefour SA here on Thursday.

The outspoken executive, credited with turning the firm into a multichannel, multiformat retailer less dependent on the ailing hypermarket model during his five-year tenure, will hand over the reins to retail whiz kid Alexandre Bompard on July 18, as reported.

“I’m sure he will do a great job,” said Plassat, encouraging Bompard to stand up from his seat in the front row of the Maison de la Mutualité’s auditorium, where the meeting was held, to show his face to shareholders. “I’m certain he will love this company, and you need to love this company,” Plassat continued.

But despite such accolades, all was not plain sailing at the AGM.

Carrefour, the world’s second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart Stores, was called out by French television journalist Elise Lucet, a former news anchor who is now an investigative reporter for national station France 2, on its use of Uzbek cotton in its textile products. Uzbekistan’s record on forced and child labor in its cotton industry has led to many brands and retailers banning its use in recent years.

“We have visited mills in Bangladesh that use Uzbek cotton and are working for Carrefour,” said Lucet, adding that she had decided to attend the AGM as the firm had not responded to requests for an interview on the subject.

“If I knew about this, it would not happen,” responded Plassat. “Such subjects are extremely important to us.”

Chief financial officer Pierre-Jean Sivignon added: “Carrefour stopped using Uzbek cotton in 2010.”

Lucet was booed into silence by shareholders, however, with calls of “We don’t care” from the audience. Plassat said the company would respond to Lucet’s request for an interview.

Clad in orange security vests, members of trade union CFDT also made their presence felt, filling several rows of the amphitheater.

One such representative questioned Plassat about the climate of declining sales in French hypermarkets and stagnating remuneration for retail workers. “Worker motivation is at its lowest level,” he said.

In response, Plassat encouraged staff to embrace the changes the channel is undergoing in order to secure the future of the hypermarket model in an omnichannel world.

“Our profession is changing, I ask you to understand that and adapt to it,” he said. “We need to be much more rigorous about animating and bringing theater to our stores, to go beyond being just places of consumption. Everywhere we see hypermarkets performing well, it is because animation levels are high.”

As reported, Carrefour posted net sales of 76.6 billion euros, or $84.8 billion at average exchange, in 2016, up 2.7 percent at constant exchange, its strongest increase since 2012. Net income fell 7.4 percent as ongoing challenges in France and investment dented profits.

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