Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to be more than a good corporate citizen. It wants to be a good global citizen.
That was the message from Doug McMillon, the retailer’s president and chief executive officer, during a keynote speech at the Net Impact 2016 conference in Philadelphia, where he discussed the role the company can play on critical issues and pointed to a new era of trust and transparency that he plans to preside over.
McMillon cited Wal-Mart’s incremental investment of $2.7 billion over the past two years to increase employee wages and provide training, and called on the broader retail industry to adopt similar measures. “We hire for talent and train for skill,” he said. “We provide mobility — a first job. We’re deploying more and more technology in our stores and we need trained associates. We’ll train over 250,000 employees next year.”
The ceo said Wal-Mart also provides workers with stability, adding, “Our associates get their schedules more than two weeks in advance.”
“A ladder of opportunity needs to be created,” McMillon added, referring to employment at Wal-Mart. “We have to be careful where we set the first rung. If it’s too high, we won’t employ as many people. We have the starting wage, offer training opportunities, and be thoughtful about how we think about health care so it’s priced right and customized families. I believe in a free market, but I think fairness can, and needs to be built in.”
However, Wal-Mart last month was criticized by Making Change at Wal-Mart, which is supported by the UFCW, for raising salaries for entry-level managers ahead of a rule change that extends mandatory overtime pay to workers making less than $47,500 a year. “This latest move allows Wal-Mart to avoid paying hard-working employees the overtime they earn,” the organization said.
McMillon also discussed environmental initiatives. Former Wal-Mart ceo H. Lee Scott in 2006 made sustainability a hallmark of his tenure, setting the ambitious goal of transforming Wal-Mart into a company that runs on 100 percent renewable energy and produces zero waste. A decade after Scott put Wal-Mart on a more sustainable path, McMillon discussed the progress. Last year, 75 percent of Wal-Mart’s global waste was diverted from landfills. Wal-Mart hopes to achieve zero waste to landfills in four of its larger markets by 2025.
The retailer is halfway toward its goal of powering 50 percent of its operations using renewable energy by 2025, McMillon said. Wal-Mart is the first retailer with an emissions-reduction plan approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Other goals for 2025 include working with suppliers to reduce product and packaging waste and preserve natural resources, and making Wal-Mart’s private-brand packaging 100 percent recyclable. “Our goal is to become the world’s most affordable retailer of safe and healthier food by 2025,” McMillon said, noting that Wal-Mart will double sales of locally grown produce in the U.S. by 2025.
McMillon showed the Net Impact audience of students and professionals involved in driving social and economic change, a turquoise short-sleeved T-shirt, priced at $3.88. “This T-shirt shows that we can create a more sustainable garment at the lowest price point in the category,” he said. “It will be available in February in stores and online made from Mississippi Delta cotton. We’re engineering sustainable apparel.”
McMillon said Wal-Mart supports the human dignity of workers in the retail supply chain, noting that the retailer is joining the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment, a collaboration of businesses and NGO partners working to ensure ethical recruitment and treatment of workers globally. The retailer also wants to improve the lives of people in communities with initiatives such as a previously announced pledge to source $250 billion worth of products that support American jobs by 2023 and $20 billion in products from women-owned businesses in the U.S. by the end of this year. The retailer also committed to donating four billion meals to fight hunger by 2020 and to contributing $25 million toward disaster relief and resiliency around the world over five years.
“Some of these problems are very difficult and will take some time to solve,” McMillon said. “You have to have a mind-set of serving multiple stakeholders.”