Its critics complain that the company imposes contested notions of progress on the communities where it operates. That can be a bad thing. Is it always?
When fielding questions, C. Douglas McMillon, the CEO of Wal-Mart International, often conveys the point he wants to make via anecdote. After listening to several of them Thursday, my ever-observant colleague James Fallows noticed something. Whether a story took place in Brazil or India or Mexico, the Wal-Mart employee or supplier at its center always seemed to be a woman.
In recent years, gender has been a fraught subject at Wal-Mart, where some employees have alleged
past discrimination that is still the subject of litigation. Whether or
not the company is guilty of failing to equitably promote and pay women in the past, the campaign it subsequently
launched to address women's issues and shore up its public image is tremendously consequential - given
the company's reach, it may end up being among the biggest
feminist triumphs that private industry has ever spurred, though that presumes a measure of success that isn't certain.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the details in September: "The company said that over the next five years it will source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S. and double its sourcing from female suppliers internationally. It also will offer training, market access and career opportunities to 60,000 women working in factories to help them develop the skills they need to become more active decision-makers in their jobs and for their families. Wal-Mart said it will help 200,000 women from low-income households gain job skills and access higher education; retail training programs also would help 200,000 women internationally," the newspaper reported.