Oxfam America urges Walmart shareholders to vote in support of human rights due diligence (HRDD) reporting. Committing to meaningful HRDD would allow Walmart to identify, assess, prevent, and mitigate actual and potential human rights risks in its operations and supply chain.
Walmart is set to hold its annual general meeting on May 31, during which Oxfam’s shareholder resolution will come to a vote. The resolution calls on the board to prepare a comprehensive HRDD report in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a globally recognized baseline for responsible business conduct and respect for human rights. This standard instructs companies to identify the human rights principles used to frame its risk assessments, the human rights impacts of Walmart’s business activities, the types and extent of stakeholder consultation, and Walmart’s plans to track success of HRDD measures.
“As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart has a clear responsibility to confront any human rights violations in its operations and supply chains,” said Gina Cummings, Oxfam America’s Vice President of Advocacy, Alliances & Policy, who is presenting the resolution. “But in order to respond effectively, the company first needs to know that they’re happening. That’s why human rights due diligence is such a crucial component of this process.”
Walmart continues to garner negative attention surrounding its substandard working conditions, both within the U.S. and throughout its global supply chains. Reports have revealed evidence of forced labor and child labor in Walmart’s supply chain, as well as insufficient sick leave, alleged mistreatment of pregnant workers, and insufficient wages in its own workforce. As of 2022, at least half of Walmart’s hourly workers earned less than $29,000 annually, leaving them effectively unable to maintain a basic standard of living.
While Walmart has taken some steps to address these human rights concerns – namely the partial disclosures they published last month – their reports are disjointed and incomplete, and fail to make sufficient commitments that fully encapsulate the company’s HRDD responsibilities. The disclosures may identify salient human rights risks, but neglect to include any acknowledgement of the role Walmart plays in those harms. Most importantly, Walmart did not address what steps it is taking to alleviate the human rights concerns it identified in its operations.
“Walmart’s recent human rights disclosures are a step in the right direction, but these reports still have some critical gaps,” said Hana Ivanhoe, Private Sector Advocacy and Campaigns Manager at Oxfam America. “Without a structured approach to HRDD and a coherent implementation plan, the company may continue to fall short of its human rights obligations, potentially endangering its workers and investors, and exacerbating inequality in the communities where it operates.”
Robust HRDD reporting would give Walmart a vital tool to mitigate these risks and protect medium- and long-term shareholder value. HRDD enables a company to detect and redress emerging labor conflicts before they develop into reputational crises, which in turn allows the company to protect itself against expensive fines and burnish its public image. It also has direct financial benefits, including reducing business disruptions, lowering employee turnover, strengthening brand reputation, and improving community relations.
“Ultimately, HRDD would safeguard Walmart’s bottom line,” said Ivanhoe. “It benefits everybody: shareholders, management, employees, and the public. We hope Walmart’s shareholders vote in favor of further HRDD reporting to help protect their investments and basic human rights.”
Notes to editors:
Reports on the use of forced labor and child labor in Walmart’s supply chains can be found in the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and the New York Times.
Insider and the Arkansas Times have published accounts of insufficient sick time for Walmart’s employees.
The Washington Post and Bloomberg have both reported on Walmart’s alleged mistreatment of pregnant workers.
Claims about Walmart’s insufficient wages, particularly the $29,000 figure, were sourced from CBS News.