Wal-Mart says it has developed five goals, designed to help empower women… (Paul Taggart, Bloomberg )
Discount giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a multibillion-dollar initiative to promote female workers and women-owned businesses as part of an effort to improve its corporate image.
The move came as the nation's largest retailer continues to deal with accusations that it doesn't have an equal workplace. The Bentonville, Ark., company may face individual claims of sex discrimination after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a class-action suit by female workers in June.
On Wednesday, Wal-Mart said it had developed five goals, designed to "help empower women across its supply chain," that it aimed to achieve by the end of 2016.
"We want women to view us as a retailer that is relevant to them and cares about them," Wal-Mart Chief Executive Mike Duke said in a statement. "We want them to be leading suppliers, managers and loyal customers."
The company said that over the next five years it will source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S. and double its sourcing from female suppliers internationally.
It also will offer training, market access and career opportunities to 60,000 women working in factories to help them "develop the skills they need to become more active decision-makers in their jobs and for their families."
Wal-Mart said it will help 200,000 women from low-income households gain job skills and access higher education; retail training programs also would help 200,000 women internationally.
The company also pledged to work with major professional service firms and merchandise suppliers with more than $1 billion in sales to increase female and minority representation on Wal-Mart accounts.
Wal-Mart said it would support the programs with more than $100 million in grants; funding will come from the Wal-Mart Foundation and donations from its international businesses.
It also established country-specific goals in markets where it operates; its Brazil division, for example, is hiring female construction workers to help build its stores and is providing job opportunities for women in Sao Paulo.
Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, said the company had an "incredible opportunity to make a difference on the big challenges facing our world."
"We do not believe that a company has to choose between being a successful business and a responsible one," he said.