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Wal-Mart blocks protesters, announces $15 billion share buyback

June 07, 2013|By Alejandro Lazo
  • Shareholders fill Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus for the annual Wal-Mart shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark.
Shareholders fill Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus… (April L. Brown / Associated…)

Armed with a temporary restraining order against demonstrators and a $15-billion stock buyback program for investors, Wal-Mart held its annual shareholder meeting Friday.

The company is facing renewed scrutiny over its labor practices at home and the working conditions of those who produce its cheap clothes abroad after the deaths of more than 1,100 workers in a Bangladesh building collapse.

To preempt protesters, Wal-Mart sought, and was granted, a temporary restraining order against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart and other unnamed defendants from a judge in Benton County, Arkansas.

According to the order, these organizers were prohibited from: “entering onto or inside Wal-Mart’s private property in the State of Arkansas to engage in activities such as picketing, patrolling, parading, demonstrations, 'flash mobs,' handbilling, solicitation, and manager confrontations,” among other acts.

Warehouse workers from California traveled to Arkansas to join striking Wal-Mart workers at the meeting. Workers are striking to get more full-time hours and because the company retaliated against workers after they criticized the company, organizers said. Among the group traveling to the meeting was Kalpona Akter, a critic of working conditions in the garment industry.

Akter spoke inside the shareholder meeting Friday, calling on Wal-Mart to address worker safety following the collapse of Rana Plaza, the factory that collapsed killing more than 1,100 workers in Bangladesh. The company has come under increased criticism following the tragedies, which reportedly produced some clothing for the company.

“If the world’s largest retailer refuses to address the state of workers’ rights and working conditions seriously, things will not change,” Akter, the executive director of the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity, said in a statement emailed to The Times before she spoke at the meeting.

Wal-Mart’s board has recommended shareholders vote against signing onto an accord on fire and building safety, which many other major retailers have agreed to sign onto, according to a report by Forbes. The company is also facing some criticism from shareholders as regulators investigate alleged bribery at the company’s Mexico unit with some investors wondering whether the company was holding executives accountable.

In an attempt to boost its share price, the company announced a $15-billion buyback program. That program replaces a previous $15-billion program authorized two years ago, which had $712 million left in the program.

“Our strong cash flow enabled the company to invest in growth and repurchase over $14 billion of our stock during the last two years,” Charles Holley, Wal-Mart executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in a statement. “We're pleased to continue our share repurchase program with this new $15 billion authorization.”

The company is known for its jubilant shareholder meetings, which often include live music and celebrities. Jennifer Hudson, Hugh Jackman, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend were all set to make appearances and give performances.

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