NOW: Wal-Mart is ‘blowing smoke’ with its multi-billion dollar women’s initiative

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Wal-Mart announced a multi-billion dollar initiative this week to promote women in the workplace in an effort to improve its image as a female-friendly company. Despite its efforts, the National Organization for Women (NOW) says the retail giant’s recent action does not make up for its past and current transgressions against women.

“It’s completely unconvincing. It’s a PR stunt,” NOW President Terry O’Neill told TheDC. “The fact is Wal-Mart has never convincingly denied that it systemically violates federal law by discriminating against its female workers.”

Wal-Mart announced Wednesday that over the next five years it will source $20 billion from women-owned businesses in the U.S. and double its international sourcing from female suppliers.

Furthermore, Wal-Mart will provide 200,000 low-income households job training, and assist another 60,000 women working in factories to “develop the skills they need to become more active decision-makers in their jobs and for their families.”

The company also pledged to spend an additional $1 billion to increase female and minority representation among the suppliers Wal-Mart uses.

“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.”

Wal-Mart has reason to cater to women. The company has repeatedly come under fire from NOW and other women’s groups for their treatment of women in the workplace.

Since 2002 NOW has referred to Wal-Mart as the “Merchant of Shame” for “sex discrimination in pay, promotion and compensation, wage abuse, exclusion of contraceptive coverage in insurance plans, violations of child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Indeed, Wal-Mart’s women’s initiative announcement came mere months after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a class action sexual discrimination suit against the retailer. Individual litigation is still pending.

O’Neill said that the case’s dismissal was inappropriate, but offered some suggestions for how Wal-Mart can improve its image among women.

“First, follow the law, stop discriminating against women. Second, be transparent, allow independent auditors to go in and actually ascertain that they are following civil rights laws with respect to employment discrimination. Third, create some family friendly policies for women trying to make it up the corporate ladder at Wal-Mart,” O’Neill said, explaining that a classic example is work schedules, wherein women are forced to chose between watching their children during the holidays or working Wal-Mart hours.

“They need to stop blowing smoke in various places and start actually, seriously following the law and becoming a decent and humane corporate citizen,“ said O’Neill.

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