In its first ever shareholder resolution at Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) filed last week, Oxfam America called on the company to report on their human rights due diligence (HRDD) to identify, assess, prevent, and mitigate human rights risks in its operations and supply chain.
Oxfam America strongly believes that Walmart’s current business practices and relationships with suppliers operating in high-risk sectors are vulnerable to human rights abuses, with devastating potential harms to stakeholders and communities. These practices and relationships may also continually expose the Company and its investors to legal, reputational, financial and human capital risk.
“Walmart has taken important steps in recent years, but is still failing its workers, communities, and investors," said Hana Ivanhoe, Private Sector Advocacy and Campaigns Manager at Oxfam America. “Without a clear, coherent and effective human rights due diligence system, with public reporting and robust rightsholder engagement, the company is falling short on its human rights obligations."
Walmart has recently updated several of its policies and committed to establish HRDD systems targeted at preventing forced labor in high-risk sectors, but we believe the Company still falls short of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP’s), a globally recognized baseline for responsible business conduct and respect for human rights.
Oxfam’s proposal outlined what we believe is Walmart’s best path forward to produce a comprehensive HRDD report, including using the UNGPs to frame its risk assessment, identifying the human rights impacts of Walmart’s domestic and foreign business activities, outlining the types and extent of shareholder consultation, and establishing plans to track the effectiveness of these new measures.
“Walmart has a responsibility to prevent human rights abuses throughout its operations and value chains,” continued Ivanhoe. “It also has a clear financial interest in preventing such abuses and can do so by adopting and implementing a robust human rights due diligence program, an essential tool that no company can afford to neglect.”
There have been numerous reports detailing allegations of Walmart’s unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including accusations that employees would face retaliation for using sick time. The Company has also faced criticism for its alleged failure to accommodate pregnant employees and for underpaying large segments of its workforce, many of whom are unable to maintain a basic standard of living, and are forced to rely heavily on public assistance programs just to get by.
Given the increasing public scrutiny of these alarming circumstances, Oxfam strongly believes that a transparent HRDD system reduces long-term risks for Walmart and its stakeholders. “We filed this resolution because we urgently need to see a credible report articulating such a process,” concluded Ivanhoe.
Notes to the editor:
Last year, the New York Times published anecdotal accounts from Walmart employees on the health and safety risks they faced working through the pandemic. The same report also alleged that many workers fear punishment from management for using their paid sick time, though a 2017 exposé in the Times had already highlighted Walmart's tendency to penalize those who take sick days.
In a case brought to the Seventh District court earlier this year, Walmart defended its right to exclude pregnant workers from its temporary light duty policy. According to Bloomberg: "One plaintiff in the Walmart case described begging for light work and being denied her request. The woman kept working to save money for unpaid maternity leave until she started bleeding and the fetal heart rate began to drop."
Rick Wartzman's 2022 book, Still Broke: Walmart's Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism, notes Walmart's history of chronically underpaying a significant number of its employees. At least half of the Company's hourly workers earn less than $29,000 annually.