Walmart Welcomes New Board Member
Posted on August 2, 2012 by jway
On Monday, Walmart named Tim Flynn, former international chairman of the accounting firm KPMG, to its board.
During his 26-year tenure with the firm, Flynn, 55, has served in a number of capacities, including Vice Chair, Audit & Risk Advisory services; Vice Chair, Human Resources; and Global Managing Partner – Audit.
Flynn’s auditing bona fides make one thing clear: Walmart is attempting to signal that it has moved on from the Walmart de Mexico bribery scandal that rocked its public image and led an unprecedented number of shareholders to vote against re-election of its board of directors in June.
What’s less clear is whether this is a real step toward reform or if Walmart has yet again opted for symbolic change over the real thing. As with Walmart’s claims regarding gender discrimination, environmentalism and healthcare access, the company is quick to make grandiose gestures that create the impression of social responsibility. For example, in the wake of a class action lawsuit brough by 1.6 million women alleging gender discrimination, Walmart launched an initiative to train women within its ranks and spend more money on women-owned businesses. Critics said the gesture was too little too late in an attempt to gloss over their historically poor treatment of women. Similarly, the company came out in support of Obama’s healthcare plan, before drastically cutting healthcare benefits for its own employees.
But the reality is that Walmart’s corruption problem can’t be remedied with a quick fix. To date, the scandal has led to a derivative action filed by a number of the company’s shareholders, an expansion of an internal review to five countries, a call from city officials to decline Walmart political contributions and protests across the country organized by community members, labor groups and elected leaders.
In the end, the issue extends beyond bribery. Walmart’s problem lies with its growth-at-any-cost business model. As long as the company is singularly focused on capturing market share, it won’t be able to eliminate unethical behavior from its corporate ranks, domestically or internationally.
Lest we forget, Walmart has been called to task for its business practices in the United States beyond the alleged cover-up of the Mexican bribery scandal. In Los Angeles, a person employed by one of Walmart’s PR firms was caught infiltrating a labor meeting under a false identity. Throughout California, Walmart has poured millions of dollars into funding petition drives to prevent cities from passing ordinances that limit the growth of big-box stores. And in cities across the country, Walmart uses push polls, political contributions, non-profit donations, direct mail pieces and lobbyists to further its growth agenda.
And so, while Mr. Flynn’s appointment to the Board of Directors may be a step in the right direction, let’s hope that Walmart knows what the rest of us do: becoming a responsible corporate partner will involve a serious commitment to reform, and certainly won’t be accomplished with a press release.