A group called The New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) will be meeting with regional Wal-Mart corporate staff at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Wal-Mart later this month to hear about how the giant retailer is “socially responsible.” Could be a very short meeting. The NHBSR meeting is the first of its “Go On Tour” series, with its opening session at 9 AM at the Wal-Mart super center on Lafayette Road, Wednesday, Jan. 21st. According to the group, Wal-Mart’s Director of Corporate Affairs for the Northeast will “explain the company’s efforts to be socially responsible nationally as well as locally.” NHBSR says the goal of the meeting is “to increase awareness of the significant measures Wal-Mart has recently made to increase sustainability efforts in every aspect of its business — it has developed a holistic approach that drives sustainable practices into the supply chain, the products sold, the lives of associates, and the communities it operates in and sources from. The breakfast and ‘tour’ is supposed to last two hours. According to the NHBSR, the mission of the group, which was founded 1989, is “to build and support a network of businesses committed to adopting socially responsible business practices, recognizing that people, principles and profits are inseparably linked.” The group explains that “businesses can do well while doing good. Social responsibility begins locally, with each of us. Businesses can be financially successful while bringing out the best in the human spirit, enriching the community and being respectful of the natural environment.” That’s a tough standard for Wal-Mart to measure up to. Their “financially successful” grade is passing, but the company might have trouble explaining how it evokes “the best in the human spirit” or is “respectful of the environment.” NHBSR notes that “an ever growing number of businesses are discovering the integral link between social responsibility and the bottom line. New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) is the business organization driving the social responsibility agenda in New Hampshire. Ask business leaders in New Hampshire who are integrating social responsibility initiatives into their company and you’ll get such answers as: ‘It’s important to my investors and matters to my consumers.’ or, ‘It affects my employee recruitment and retention, and impacts our corporation reputation.’ Social responsibility in business is not just a trendy concept, but increasingly an integral part of how companies are doing business.” In this case, Wal-Mart can make the case that it has done well by not doing good.
In New Hampshire today, Wal-Mart has 11 supercenters, 16 discount stores, 4 Sam’s Clubs, and 1 distribution center. The company claims it has 9,272 employees in the state, who earn an average hourly wage of “regular, full-time” employees is $12.21. The wage for part-time workers or temps is not included in that figure. Wal-Mart claims that it has 338 local suppliers based in New Hampshire, and spent $124 million with these suppliers, which they say supports another 10,916 jobs. Wal-Mart does not provide any data on how much New Hampshire products are as a percentage of all items sold at the store, or how many jobs at other retailers in New Hampshire have been lost since Wal-Mart opened stores in the state. Wal-Mart says it paid almost $19 million in state and local taxes in New Hampshire. The company measures “community involvement” by how much it gives in local cash or in-kind donations, which they say totaled $2.27 million in New Hampshire last year. This “socially responsible” meeting could prove interesting if local businesses have the presence of mind to ask Wal-Mart some tough questions, instead of just hearing about how the store recycles its waste water, or reduces cardboard packaging. Readers are urged to email NHBSR staffer Molly Smith at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Molly, I cannot attend your breakfast with Wal-Mart on January 21st, but I was hoping that you could give their Northeast Director of Corporate Affairs the following list of questions to answer about social responsibility: 1) When is Wal-Mart going to release its list of supplier factories, and allow independent monitoring of working conditions at its vendors? 2) Why has Wal-Mart closed down stores in Canada when workers have unionized? 3) How much is Wal-Mart going to spend this year in lobbying fees to block the Employee Free Choice Act? 4) Your company recently settled 63 wage and hour class action lawsuits brought by your own employees — but when are you going to settle the massive Dukes v. Wal-Mart gender discrimination suit? 5) Are you going to beef up security for workers and shoppers in light of the trampling death of one of your workers at a Long Island store, and the constant crime in your parking lots? 6) Closer to home, Wal-Mart has cut in half the number of superstores projected for the next few years, yet 21 miles from here in Plaistow your company gathered signatures to put a rezoning change before Town Meeting that would allow you to build another superstore just a few miles from your existing discount store. How is this environmentally sustainable? 6) You have more than 200 ‘dark stores’ on the market now, including an empty discount store in Hinsdale that is just two minutes down the road from a new superstore you are building. When are you going to start recycling your stores instead of building bigger and bigger new ones? 7) How is sourcing most of your products from China a responsible, or sustainable environmental policy? How does this reduce your carbon footprint? 8) Why have several large pension funds dropped you from their ‘socially responsible’ investment portfolios?” It’s not likely the members of the New Hampshire Businesses For Social Responsibility will take responsibility to ask these questions, but it might liven up the meeting.