Walmart is often lauded for its work on environmental issues, but the company's track record on women's rights is not quite as clean. Hot on the heels of a massive class action sex discrimination suit against the company (it was thrown out by the Supreme Court in June), Walmart has announced that it will double sourcing from female suppliers internationally and source $20 billion from female-owned U.S. businesses by 2016. Could the two possibly be related?
The company's retail training program also plans to educate women in job skills—including 200,000 low-income women in the U.S. Another program will train 60,000 women working in factories internationally with career opportunities and becoming "more active decision makers in their jobs and for their families."
Betty Dukes, the Walmart employee who initiated the case, declined to comment on Walmart's new female-oriented initiative. But her attorney, Brad Seligman, emailed us a statement: "The Wal-Mart initiative does nothing for the millions of women who have worked for Wal-Mart and were denied equal pay and promotions. Wal-Mart's legacy of workplace discrimination will not be erased until it changes its employment practices and addresses the years of lost pay its female employees are entitled to. The Supreme Court decision did not absolve Wal-Mart from this obligation. In the coming months, women will be filing lawsuits and claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to continue the fight for equal pay."
Walmart, for its part, claims that the initiative is unrelated to the case. And, whether it is or not, they do have an impressive list of partners lined up in support of the project, including CARE and Vital Voices. A Walmart representative tells us that the initiative began in earnest a little over a year ago. "We think this is going to make an impact in the markets we serve overseas and in the U.S.," he says. And when a company throws $20 billion at female empowerment—something that most companies couldn't even dream of doing—it's hard to complain too much. Though the women involved the lawsuit might feel differently.