Shoppers at a Walmart Store in Chicago. Reuters/John Gress
This week Walmart shareholders will gather in the retail giant’s Arkansas backyard and re-elect a board of directors charged with guiding the company over the coming years. Walmart’s board—rife with billionaires and industry titans—has recently become a lightning rod for company critics. During their lengthy and high-profile business careers, several board members have faced allegations—from worker exploitation to financial malfeasance—that parallel those facing Walmart itself.
Over the past year, labor activists have targeted board members with dossiers on the Internet and protests around the country, from a hunger strike and vigil by guest workers outside Michele Burns’s New York mansion, to demonstrators placed along the route of a Bay Area marathon to shout messages at Greg Penner as he ran towards the finish line. Over the past week, striking retail workers from the union-backed group OUR Walmart have staged a series of board-focused protests, including one at Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s Palo Alto mansion, and another outside her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons hotel.
While Walmart’s shareholder meeting won’t kick off until Friday, strikers are already in town. This week they’ll try to win over some of the workers flown to Arkansas by management, and to draw shareholders’ and reporters’ attention to OUR Walmart’s allegations of illegal retaliation and their demands regarding Walmart’s working conditions. They’ll also work to shine light on recent company controversies regarding reported bribery in Mexico and factory deaths in Bangladesh.
Friday’s meeting also follows a quarterly earnings report that drew some less-than-glowing headlines in major outlets (New York Times: “Wal-Mart Sales Go Cold, and Its Shares Feel the Chill”; USA Today: “Wal-Mart 1Q profits, revenue disappoint”; Los Angeles Times: “Wal-Mart reports weak 1st-quarter sales, blames weather, tax issues”). The United Food & Commercial Workers union seized on the earnings report as the latest sign of trouble at Walmart, along with New York Times and Bloomberg articles suggesting understaffing is driving away customers, and the announced departures of three board members and two executive vice presidents.