Is Wal-Mart an Ethical Company?

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Jeffrey Seglin, a business ethics columnist for the New York Times, participated in an event sponsored by Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. He described two Wal-Marts…one as evil and one as good. The evil company is very, very big and does everything to grow bigger. They use illegal immigrants to mop floors and are accused of locking employees inside overnight. They practice gender discrimination, pay low wages and deteriorate suppliers and competition. The bad one “is the enemy of all that’s good and right in our nation” (Seglin, 2004).

The good Wal-Mart Seglin describes as thrifty, industrious and offer fair deals. They serve society and due to their exceptional distribution system, pass along gains to everyone. The company employs insightful managers who “democratize the American dream”. The company spurs productivity and helps fight inflation. The good one is “Americas most admired company” (Seglin, 2004).

Wal-Mart is a huge global retailer employing millions of people, serves millions of customers annually and operates in over 13 markets (Walmart/AboutUs). Prior to 2008, they consistently rated high by their peers and appeared in Fortune Magazine’s list of top 20 most admired companies (Fortune Magazine). The question is however, is the company ethical? This paper looks at various criticisms and praise in specific areas and applies normative theories in an attempt to answer this question.

Wal-Mart has been found guilty of discrimination against women employees, minorities, demeaning workers with disabilities and inequality based on sexual orientation. Wal-Mart was found guilty of gender bias in 2004. Customers have sued Wal-Mart claiming racial profiling as have a group of black truck drivers. In 2007 a judge found Wal-Mart’s hiring policies were justification of a class action suit for profiling. Disabled workers won a lawsuit in 2001 when a judge found Wal-Mart guilty of violating the American with Disabilities Act (Wal-MartWatch).

From another view, Wal-Mart is one of the largest private employers with a diverse and multi-cultural workforce. The company employs more than 251,000 African-American associates; more than 39,000 Asian and 5,000 Pacific Islander associates; more than 165,000 Hispanic associates; more than 16,000 American Indian and Alaskan Native associates; more than 856,000 women; and more than 355,000 mature associates who are 50 and older. Their 15-member board of directors includes three women, two African Americans and one Hispanic. Wal-Mart provides job opportunities for associates with disabilities (Wal-Mart/Fact Sheet).

Health Care
Wal-Mart claims health-care costs put the company at a competitive disadvantage. Only half of their workforce is covered and preventive care is not available to associates. It takes a long time to get coverage and those with pre-existing conditions must wait even longer. The company charges extra for ambulatory and emergency room visits. Some employee’s spouses are excluded and premiums are high. Many of the employees and their children are forced to seek public assistance. The company is also accused of phasing out full-time employment to avoid offering insurance (Wal-MartWatch).

From another view, Wal-Mart takes feedback from employees in attempt to improve their health-plan. They claim 90% of their employees take health insurance. The company offers over 50 variations so the employee can customize their plan. They offer prescription medicine for $4.00. Both full-time and part-time employees are eligible and the waiting period has been cut in half. The company offers 401k/profit sharing and bonuses as well (Wal-Mart/Fact Sheet).

Wal-Marts environmental history is not admirable. In 2004 they faced violations in nine different states. Various violations included air pollution, water pollution and hazardous storage issues. In 2008, Wal-Mart exec Lee Scott admitted the company was...
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