Wal-Mart & CSR

This Blog is dangerously close to becoming the “Wal-Mart Ethics Blog.” This is not my plan, but interesting stories about the world’s largest retailer just keep popping up!

Yesterday, Reuters had this:
Wal-Mart to open stores in blighted areas

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., under fire from a host of critics for its business practices, on Tuesday said it would open more than 50 stores in distressed areas and help small business around those locations thrive once the discount chain moves in.

The world’s biggest retailer, often blamed for driving mom-and-pop stores out of business, said it would offer business development grants to nearby companies and give them free in-store advertising as part of a new economic development program.

Wal-Mart will also hold seminars for minority and women-owned business owners on how to become Wal-Mart suppliers, as well as seminars for all surrounding small businesses on how to compete in a community with a Wal-Mart.

Here are 3 perspectives on this story. Make up your own mind:

  • “This is window-dressing. It’s damage-control. After a few years of harsh criticism, Wal-Mart is going to spend a few bucks on helping the ‘little people,’ and then brag about it, like, forever.”
  • “This is atonement. However late, however reluctantly, Wal-Mart is going to try to buy its way out of purgatory.”
  • “This is classic (now mainstream) Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s an example of a company helping a range of stakeholders in a way that, yes, looks good, and may have other kinds of synergistic positive implications for the bottom line.”
  • Oh, and option 4 is “All of the above.”

Personally, I have no idea what’s motivating this move by Wal-Mart. You may have an opinion, but backing that up will be difficult. After all, most of us have trouble divining the motives of people we know well. Accurately determining the motives of an organization as large & complicated as Wal-Mart seems much harder. So, what are we to do, when corporate motives are so unclear?

Update: Here’s the NYT’s take on this story

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