Walmart Has NOT Disavowed Political Correctness

Leslie DachOn Monday Walmart, which has been the subject of much criticism from the National Legal and Policy Center for kowtowing to liberal causes such as cap-and-trade and Obamacare, announced it is going to “reinforce its commitment to deliver low prices.”

No seriously. They really mean it. This time.

A mistaken premise started by PajamasMedia’s Richard Pollock is circulating on some conservative blogs. Pollock postulates that the announcement, after seven straight quarters of same store sales declines (not the same as “losses,” as Pollock reports), means that Walmart has repudiated its efforts to “go green” and is “ending its era of high-end organic foods,” in which they attempted to appeal to wealthier shoppers. In a misrepresentation of a Wall Street Journal article, Pollock asserts that the company has realized a “green” strategy failed, when in fact all Walmart has said is that it made mistakes in removing popular items from its stores, and that it got too promotion-oriented in its pricing strategies.

Nevertheless, Pollock pursued his theory as though it is fact:

The failure, in large part, can be pinned to Leslie Dach (in photo): a well-known progressive and former senior aide to Vice President Al Gore. In July 2006, Dach was installed as the public relations chief for Wal-Mart. He drafted a number of other progressives into the company, seeking to change the company’s way of doing business: its culture, its politics, and most importantly its products.

Out went drab, inexpensive merchandise so dear to low-income Americans. In came upscale organic foods, “green” products, trendy jeans, and political correctness. In other words, Dach sought to expose poor working Americans to the “good life” of the wealthy, environmentally conscious Prius driver.

Reviews of news articles and press releases show there is no evidence that political correctness, “Green” products, organics or Dach are leaving Walmart any time soon. All the company said in its announcement is that it will increase price checks with competitors, seek even greater efficiencies in its supply chain, simplify its ad match policy, and broaden its product lines.

Meanwhile Walmart still trumpets its “sustainability” initiatives, such as its announcement last month that it would eliminate 80 percent of its waste in California that would otherwise go to landfills (why not the rest of the country?). At a “Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting” on March 17, the company said it would “lay the foundation for the Next Generation Walmart, (as) sustainability will continue to be embedded into our culture.” And this week the company hosted its 6th Annual “Sustainable Packaging Exposition,” which was to “connect buyers, product suppliers, and packaging suppliers, to continue Walmart Stores Inc.’s progress towards more sustainable packaging.”

And Dach is still comfortably entrenched as WalMart’s executive vice president for corporate affairs. At a January event in which the company supported the Obama anti-obesity campaign, he said:

We applaud First Lady Michelle Obama’s leadership and commitment to this important cause. Few individuals have done more to raise awareness of the importance of healthier habits—especially among children—than she has. She was a catalyst that helped make today’s announcement a reality and her spirit of collaboration made our commitment to bring better nutrition to kitchen tables across this country even stronger.”

And at a conference last week called “Brainstorm Green,” hosted by Fortune magazine, Marc Gunther of Sustainable Business Forum reported:

Walmart’s ambitious sustainability efforts have paid off in many ways, some unexpected, said Leslie Dach, the company’s executive vice president. They’ve helped the company save lots of money. They’ve driven sales of environmentally-preferable products, like CFL bulbs. They’ve dramatically improved Walmart’s reputation, making it easier for the company to enter new markets and attract employees.

Maybe most important, though, is the fact that the sustainability work has changed the way Walmart thinks about itself. “It’s really been transformative inside in helping us take a broader look at our role in the world,” Dach said. Before, he said, “we weren’t meeting the world’s expectations of us.” Now, the company takes an expansive view of its impact and responsibility on a range of issues—from climate change to health care to agriculture to working conditions in China. It’s far from perfect but, as Dach put it, “that’s a different corporate culture than the company ever had.”

In an interview posted last week by CNNMoney (video, not able to embed), Dach said in true nanny-state fashion, “In a sense, we’re not doing this for the customer (because he wants it). We think the customer benefits.”

Asked if being increasingly “green” has been good for Walmart’s bottom line, Dach responded emphatically, “It has been. It has made us a stronger company. It’s fueled the productivity loop, so we’ve been able to lower our costs, so we can lower our prices. But it’s also helped us recruit and retain people. It’s helped us enter new markets, and it’s made the people who work at Walmart feel better about their contribution. So it is clear to us that it’s made us a stronger company.”

Feeling good while same store sales drop for nearly a two-year period – spoken like a true liberal, but not like someone who is about to lose his job.

Paul Chesser is associate fellow for the National Legal & Policy Center and is executive director for American Tradition Institute.


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