As the world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is no stranger to public scrutiny. And with sales slumping in its key U.S. market, the company has been keen to burnish its image on a wide range of social issues. Case in point: executives last week revealed they were going to double the amount of money Wal-Mart spends with women-owned businesses in the United States to about US$5 billion annually, by 2016. The changes come just as the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a big sex-discrimination lawsuit against the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, although suits from individual women could still be forthcoming. Wal-Mart has similarly worked with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama to try to promote healthier lifestyles among Americans by stocking more nutritious foods. Such efforts are no doubt made with Wal-Mart’s bottom line firmly in mind. But with annual sales greater than the GDP of 174 countries, there’s no question the rest of us benefit too.
Wal-Mart’s friendly face
The retail giant is keen to show its softer side