FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. used the stage of its annual shareholders meeting Friday to try to convince two divergent groups — the company’s social critics and Wall Street — that the world’s largest retailer is on the right path.
Chief executive Lee Scott gave a simple prescription for meeting company standards, telling workers they should be “doing the right things and doing things right.”
Company executives, between celebrity performances at the yearly cheering session, told of strict diversity goals but also said the company was working to change its stores to better meet the desires of female shoppers, who spend more time in the aisles than men. The company outlined different ways it plans to build on revenues that reached $288 billion last fiscal year.
Scott drew two standing ovations during the meeting, but feminist leader Martha Burk was applauded, too.
Shareholders and workers clapped when Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, said Wal-Mart can do better than having only two women on its 14-member board. She was applauded again after her presentation of a shareholder resolution calling for a breakdown by race and gender of distribution of Wal-Mart stock options.
“We want to be sure there is not an equity glass ceiling in our company. Wal-Mart has the opportunity to break new ground in shareholder information,” said Burk, who said she is a second-generation Wal-Mart shareholder.
The resolution was voted down, as were seven other shareholder proposals.
Scott drew much louder applause from the 18,000 people at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus when he closed the meeting with a pledge that the company would continue to battle its critics. The group Wake-Up Wal-Mart is working to organize individuals to rally the company to provide better pay and health benefits. Another group, Wal-Mart Watch, used a phone bank before the meeting to call Bentonville-area residents to ask if they knew of any wrongdoing within the company, drawing a rebuke from Wal-Mart.
“A coalition of labor unions and others are spending $25 million to do whatever they have to do to damage this company,” Scott said, calling the effort one of the “most organized, most sophisticated” efforts ever mounted against a company.
“That means we’ll continue to be judged by a higher standard than any other company. That’s just the way it is,” Scott said.
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