May 23, 2024 - News

Walmart shareholders to vote on welfare plans for animals, humans

Walmart Inc. President and CEO Doug McMillon delivers a keynote address during CES 2024 in Las Vegas. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart Inc., delivers the keynote address during CES 2024 in Las Vegas. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Three themes run through shareholder proposals for Walmart this year: animal, human and financial welfare.

Why it matters: Walmart can potentially influence global social change because it employs more than 2 million people and is one of the world's largest companies by market capitalization.

Driving the news: The company's annual Associates Week kicks off with its shareholders business meeting June 5 at 10:30am.

State of play: This year's proxy outlines 10 proposals, including three company business plans to which the retailer suggests shareholders vote yes, as well as seven submitted by outside investors to which the company suggests votes of no.

  • The internal proposals are for Walmart's board of directors, executive compensation program and to ratify its independent accounting firm.
  • Three of the external proposals call for company audits and reports on racial equity, civil rights and nondiscrimination, and workplace safety. A fourth would create a financial sustainability report to review the company's advocacy, partnerships and charitable giving on social and political issues.

Between the lines: Three notable proposals include:

1. The Accountability Board requests Walmart publish targets for transitioning from gestation crates in its pork supply chain.

  • Animal-welfare advocates have long argued the farming practice is cruel. They frequently call for meat packers like Tyson Foods, restaurants like Denny's and Sonic Drive-In, and grocers like Walmart to demand change within their supply chains.

2. The Shareholder Commons calls for the company to establish wage policies "reasonably designed to provide workers with the minimum earnings necessary to meet a family's basic needs." Earlier this year, Walmart raised its average hourly wage to $18.

  • Yes, but: MIT's living-wage calculator estimates a single person with no children needs to earn at least $21.11 in Benton County; $25.68 in Middlesex County, New Jersey; and $21.06 in Yakima County, Washington.

3. Oxfam America wants Walmart to publish human-rights impact assessments (HRIAs) for the company's U.S. supply chain and warehouse facilities.

  • At the root of the request is an April report by Oxfam focused on how Walmart and Amazon track productivity of its warehouse workers.

What they're saying: Walmart warehouse workers are "increasingly being subjected to surveillance and monitoring and really an unrelenting push to continuously produce" — and there are health consequences, Irit Tamir, a senior director at Oxfam, told Axios.

  • "They have been more amenable to human rights and human-rights due diligence in the last few years, and we appreciate that," she said.
  • "Walmart says it's willing to do human-rights impact assessments … but they're not willing to be public about what they find and how they intend to take action on those findings. And that's the critical component for us."

The other side: Following each external proposal listed in the fiscal 2024 proxy statement, Walmart points out — in most instances — the recommendations are redundant to its existing policies or that its existing practices are sufficient.

The bottom line: Most shareholders generally vote the way the company recommends.

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