After 43 years in business, the Wal-Mart corporation has discovered something it calls “ethics.” In the February issue of “Wal-Mart World”, which is an internal magazine for Wal-Mart workers, an article entitled “Introducing the Office of Ethics” explains to the 1.5 million Wal-Mart “associates” that several months ago (June, 2004) Wal-Mart established an Ethics Office. Because it was an office, it apparently needed a hotline, so an “Ethics Hotline” was started: 800-963-8442 (800 WM ETHIC). “The Ethic Office is available to answer your questions and to help you make the right decisions,” the article explains. Workers who want to report an ethics allegation can also email the Ethics Office at [email protected] You can even send an ethics fax to 479-204-9865. Wal-Mart says that all calls to their Ethics Hotline are confidential, and a caller can request to remain anonymous. “Remember,” the company says, “it is your responsibility to report unethical behavior.” And then, in one of the great ethical dilemmas, the company adds, “Refusing to report an ethics violation is also unethical behavior.” Wal-Mart already has its much-touted “Open Door” policy, which it says is “the most direct way to voice any concern or issue.” Critics of the company say the “open door” policy means “open” your mouth and you’re out the “door.”
This is inspirational that Wal-Mart has discovered ethics, and shifted the focus for just a moment away from “everyday low prices.” Some may argue that Wal-Mart’s entire business model is based on unethical behavior. To fail to report that to the company would be unethical behavior. So Wal-Mart opponents, if you wish to write the new Wal-Mart Ethics Office, address your letters to: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc/Attn: Ethics Office/702 SW 8th St./Bentonville, AR 72716-0860. One has to wonder what in particular triggered Wal-Mart, after all these years, to set up an Ethics office? Could it be the amazing volume of “time theft” lawsuits filed by Wal-Mart’s own staff against the company, or the sex discrimination lawsuits, or disabilty discrimination lawsuits? Regardless of the motive, it’s nice to know that America’s largest employer has finally found ethics, and set up a toll free phoneline, no less, to report unethical behavior. We’re sure the line will get plenty of calls.