Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) on Wednesday announced it has hired Dan Bartlett, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, to head corporate and government affairs for the world’s largest retailer.
Bartlett, who replaced longtime Bush confidant Karen Hughes in 2002 and later clashed with then-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan in the blame game surrounding the false allegations made by the Bush administration in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, will now be in charge of handling Wal-Mart’s relationship with public institutions.
Bartlett, 41, replaces former Democratic strategist Leslie Dach, who was in charge of a years-long effort to improve Wal-Mart’s reputation with regards to workers and the environment and who had urged the company – traditionally more supportive of Republican issues – to be more bipartisan in its approach to lobbying and government relations.
Since leaving politics, Bartlett was most recently president and CEO of the U. S. arm of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a global business advisory firm serving corporations, nonprofits and associations in 52 countries.
In 2007 the company hired another prominent Republican to head its health-related operations: former Assistant Health Secretary John O. Agwunobi, who famously opposed removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that includes heroin and LSD.
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Bartlett’s appointment comes as the company is confronting three major high-profile controversies: The first is an ongoing federal investigation into whether it bribed officials to open stores south of the border, which started after the New York Times provided compelling evidence in December that the company’s Mexico subsidiary paid $52,000 to reverse an unfavorable zoning decision in a location north of Mexico City.
Second, the company has faced sharp criticism for paying its lowest-wage workers so little that they have to depend on public welfare to supplement their incomes.
A document leaked to the Huffington Post late last year shows Wal-Mart offering a starting wage of as low as $8 an hour with a "rate of wage advancement" of $1.60 after four years of satisfactory service. At the same time, the company paid out $21 billion in dividends – the money corporations kick back to their shareholders – between 2008 and 2012.
Third, Wal-Mart is one of the major retailers that have been targeted for sourcing apparel out of dangerous work facilities in Bangladesh, cheap sweatshop labor that has cost hundreds of lives in recent years. Bartlett will now be in charge of the damage control efforts for these and other controversies targeting a company that generates nearly a half trillion dollars in sales every year.