The Problem With Walmart's $20 Billion Plan To Help Female-Owned Businesses

A huge class action suit against Walmart for systematically discriminating against female employees is dismissed. Then Walmart creates a massive plan to help women. The company says they're not related. The women in the suit don't care.

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.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Joyce Hoffman

    I would like to add this to this wrongfull doing by wal mart. After 3 1/2 yrs working nights this new program they started little over 2 years ago got me fired. I worked to slow, I am 57 and can't work as fast as someone 20 yrs old.I was able to get my stocking done before it was time to clock out of a morning. How many more of us women in our fiftys will lose our job with wal mart. I had my paper work in to accomedate me because of my fibermyalga,I even had FMLA paper work done and aproved,but if you miss more than 4 days you still had to go to the doctors and get a form filled out any way. So what good did it do to get FMLA approved!!Not a darn thing, they still fired me.I have a disabled son who is 38 now,2 of his kids,1of his grandchild,1 husband of his 1daughter. My unemployment benifits wont last for ever!!!So as far as I am concern their moto is we are all family is a crock!!! They also said they would rehire me but that was a lie. Even though I would rather not work for them again I still need my job to support my family. I am a widow now for 9yrs. This has been very trying for me. How many women out there has had this happen to?