Wal-Mart Holds First-Ever, Two-Day Media Event

By: Smart Supplier As Wal-Mart is suffering its latest public-relations black eye -- the abrupt dismissal of its second-highest ranking executive over ethical issues -- the company is hosting an unprecedented two-day media event at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters starting today.

Approximately 100 magazine and newspaper reporters were invited to the event, which was billed as a way for the world's largest retailer to tell its own story and dispel accusations that it is a bad employer. About 50 were expected to attend.

Wal-Mart critics are seizing on the two-day session as an opportunity to launch their own campaigns against the retail behemoth, asserting that the $288 billion company underpays employees, shifts the burden of health-care costs to taxpayers via state programs covering low-income residents, and takes advantage of low-cost labor overseas. Labor union organizers set up a press conference via telephone that featured a Georgia legislator, a former Sam's Club manager, and a Cleveland clergyman, all raising concerns about Wal-Mart's practices.

Wal-Mart has admitted publicly that it has not done a good job of responding to its critics. Earlier this year, it bought full-page advertisements in more than 100 newspapers and Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott went on the TV talk show circuit to defend the company's policies. It also recently launched a new informational Web site that, among other things, says Wal-Mart pays full-time employees an average $9.68 an hour, almost double the federal minimum wage, and offers reasonable health care.

Wal-Mart said it will evaluate the results of the two-day media-education sessions and perhaps include broadcast media in the future.

The most recent scandal involves former vice chairman Thomas Coughlin, who was forced to resign from the retailer?s board of directors after an internal probe of reimbursements, payment of third-party invoices and use of company gift cards totaling as much as $500,000.

An SEC filing by the retailer cites unauthorized payments obtained through the reporting of false information on third-party invoices and company expense reports. Coughlin, 55, disputes the company?s findings. Bloggers are having a field day conjecturing on the scope of the violations.


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