Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) held its annual shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., on Friday and stopped the entertainment for 20 minutes to entertain corporate policy change proposals by activist shareholders. The four speakers, representing parties, unions and firms with investments in the world's largest retailer, delivered three-minute pleas for support to an audience of thousands that included the Walton family.
Wal-Mart Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary Jeff Gearhart gave the floor to four representatives who addressed widely reported controversies from the past year that have disrupted the company's global operations and damaged its international reputation.
Citing two recent tragedies in Bangladesh, an investigation into a bribery scandal in Mexico, hazardous waste disposal crimes in the U.S., fair pay for employees and lack of independent representation on the board, four representatives laid out their proposals and voiced their disapproval of some of the company's existing business practices.
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Read the shareholders' full proposals and Wal-Mart's opposition statements (beginning on page 70) in the official Shareholders' Meeting Proxy Statement.
Key quotes from each of the shareholders are below:
"Forgive me, but for years every time there's an accident, Wal-Mart officials have made promises to improve the terrible conditions in my country's garment factories, yet the tragedies continue," said Aktar. "With all due respect, the time for empty promises is over. We have a supply chain out of control, and a failed safety inspection system, in a country where apparel workers are dying by the hundreds: Could there be any more clear case for a special meeting of shareholders?"
"When I think about the fact that our CEO, Mike Duke, made over $20 million last year, more than one thousand times the average Wal-Mart associate, with all due respect, I have to say, I don't think that's right," said Sparks "That $20 million you received, Mr. Duke, most of it came from bonuses. But at the store where I work associates have only received two quarterly bonuses in the past five years and the last one was just $26.17. As hard as we work I think we deserve better."
"The company faces a set of challenges that should have been avoided. In particular, the Bangladeshi tragedies have shown that this company, like many others, had lost control of its supply chain in that country," said Goodwin. "The significant bribery and corruption allegations in Mexico and elsewhere are of huge concern. It appears that senior management and above them, the board, may have failed profoundly in their duties of oversight on behalf of all shareholders. This is a big problem to solve. This is, we are afraid, not business as usual."
"Even the best conduct-related policies are rendered less effective if no one knows whether they are enforced," said Allen. "Wal-Mart argues that current securities rules require it to provide sufficient disclosure in this regard. But such disclosure would only apply to handful of the highest ranking officers. Wal-Mart has over 2 million employees throughout the world. To date we've never been informed whether Wal-Mart has clawed back pay from any senior employee despite Wal-Mart having to pay recovery policies for over a decade."
The company will officially announce shareholder voting results Monday, June 10.