Bangladeshi Sweatshop Critic Kalpona Akter Just Presented James McRitchie’s Proposal on Special Shareholder Meetings at Walmart’s Annual Shareholder Meeting Now in Progress.
Contact: James McRitchie, 916-869-2402 or John Chevedden, 310-371-7872.
This is the text:
Good morning, I am Kalpona Akter, and I have traveled to be here today from my country, Bangladesh. It is my honor to present Proposal number 5.
RESOLVED: Shareowners ask our board to take the steps necessary to amend our bylaws to give holders of 10% of our outstanding common stock the power to call a special shareowner meeting. This includes that such amendments will not have any exclusionary or prohibitive language in regard to calling a special meeting that apply only to shareowners but not to management and/or the board.
This proposal does not impact our board’s current power to call a special meeting. Special meetings allow shareowners to vote on important matters, such as electing new directors that can arise between annual meetings. Shareowner input on the timing of shareowner meetings is especially important when events unfold quickly and issues may become moot by the next annual meeting. This proposal topic won more than 60% support at CVS, Sprint and Safeway.
This proposal should also be evaluated in the context of our Company’s clearly improvable corporate governance climate including recent events in my country:
Two years ago I had the honor of standing here on behalf of the New York City Pension Funds and asking the board of directors to require that the Company‘s suppliers publish an annual, independently verifiable sustainability report, including a specific assessment of the suppliers’ performance on workplace safety and worker rights. Unfortunately, our company was against that proposal.
Now here we are today: The last six months have seen two of the worst disasters in the entire history of the garment industry, killing 1,239 workers. Both occurred in Bangladesh, where Wal-Mart is the second largest buyer of apparel. Both occurred because of unsafe practices by factory owners, operating under intense price and delivery pressure from customers. Both occurred in buildings where Wal-Mart goods were produced.
Wal-Mart executives say its production was placed in these buildings by unscrupulous suppliers, claims that strain credulity. Even if true, this only proves that Wal-Mart’s supply chain is out of control.
Worse, Wal-Mart commissioned labor rights audits at one of these factories, yet the hazards that ultimately killed workers were never addressed. Now Wal-Mart executives have stated the repairs needed to make our factories safe are too expensive, yet the costs would be just two tenths of 1 percent of the company’s profit last year, and just 1% of the dividends paid out last year to the Walton family heirs. I would like to direct this to the chairman of the board, Mr. Rob Walton: I am sure you are aware that fixing these buildings would cost just a tiny fraction of your family’s wealth, so I implore you to please help us. You have the power to do this very easily. Don’t you agree that the factories where Wal-Mart products are made should be safe for the workers?
Wal-Mart would not have to bear the costs of these safety improvements alone. In the past few weeks 41 companies that have already signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety which represents a real commitment to worker safety, yet Wal-Mart is one of only a few major importers refusing to sign. Instead, Wal-Mart’s public relations officials have announced plans for an alternative to this landmark agreement, but so far not a single meaningful detail has been provided. Forgive me, but for years every time there’s a tragedy Wal-Mart officials have made promises to improve the terrible conditions in my country’s garment factories, yet the tragedies continue. With all due respect, the time for empty promises is over.
We have a supply chain out of control, and a failed safety inspection system, in a country where apparel workers are dying by the hundreds: Could there be any more pressing case for a special meeting of shareholders?
In the context of this clearly improvable corporate governance climate, please vote to protect shareholder value: Proposal 5 – Special Shareowner Meeting Right