Walmart report highlights pandemic, George Floyd’s death

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,215 views 

Walmart’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd were reoccurring topics in its 2021 summary report on environmental, social and governance issues (ESG).

Walmart recently released its annual ESG report and launched a website to provide more information on the issues. The report showed its progress on ESG issues through the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Jan. 31.

The Bentonville-based retailer has reported on a range of ESG issues since 2005. The company’s annual summary provides an overview of its approach to ESG, priorities and highlights. The new website includes a series of issue briefs covering Walmart’s priority ESG issues in greater detail. According to the report, the briefs are expected to be updated “from time to time” and might not align with fiscal year reporting periods.

In it, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon highlighted several issues over the past year, including the pandemic and the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

“When the pandemic hit, associates around the world faced the uncertainty of an unprecedented situation by remaining constant in their commitment to care for customers, communities and each other,” McMillon said. “Our associates innovated to safely serve customers and aid relief efforts — many of which continue today. As a result, we fulfilled more online pickup and delivery orders than ever. We implemented measures to protect shoppers and each other. We kept our supply chain moving and launched COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. And we offered a sense of normalcy with a warm greeting — albeit a socially distant one — when people craved it most.”

Doug McMillon

McMillon said Floyd’s murder “was a snapshot of centuries of prejudice and injustices our Black and African American communities have faced, and it focused everyone’s attention in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time.” Following Floyd’s murder, Walmart changed its hiring, pay and promotional practices to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company, McMillon said. It also launched employee-led Shared Value Networks and the Center for Racial Equity that provide resources and strategies to address finance, healthcare, education and criminal justice systems issues.

Walmart is working toward zero emissions across its global operations by 2040 without relying on carbon offsets. This past fall, it set a goal “to become a regenerative company — one that restores, renews and replenishes,” McMillon said.

As of the end of 2020, renewable sources such as wind and solar supplied more than 36% of Walmart’s global electricity. The company has goals to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and 1 million square miles of ocean by 2030, the report shows. In 2020, it diverted 81% of waste from landfills and incineration globally, flat from the previous year.

Kathleen McLaughlin, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer for Walmart, said that since the company launched the Project Gigaton program in 2017, more than 3,100 suppliers have avoided a cumulative 416 million metric tons of emissions.

Kathleen McLaughlin

“While we decarbonize our operations and eliminate waste, we’ll also protect, manage and restore nature and advance prosperity and equity for the people who participate in our product supply chains,” McMillon added. “This concept of regeneration will help shape our approach to shared value going forward.”

McLaughlin also echoed the issues McMillon highlighted along with rising income inequality.

She said the Shared Value Networks was established to help eliminate systemic racism through business initiatives. She noted that the company promoted more than 300,000 U.S. employees, and Walmart gave 46% of hourly worker promotions to people of color. Along with the Walmart Foundation, the retailer committed $100 million over five years to support philanthropic efforts through the Center for Racial Equity. In February, the center announced its first round of grants, totaling $14.3 million to 16 nonprofits. Also, it started twice-yearly disclosure of diversity data.

“We refreshed our Code of Conduct and related policies to further foster a culture of accountability, transparency and trust,” McLaughlin added. “We also enhanced disclosure of our public board diversity, digital citizenship and public policy engagement.”

As of April, women comprised 25% of the company’s board of directors. It’s 17% racially or ethnically diverse, according to the report. Over the past five years, three out of five appointees were women or racially/ethnically diverse.

Regarding the pandemic, McLaughlin said the company provided a COVID emergency leave policy for employees. It also enhanced its policy to three days of paid leave for any vaccine side effects. While its U.S. employees were not required to receive the COVID vaccine, the company provided two hours of paid time to get it.

Walmart also increased pickup services from 1,500 to more than 3,500 sites, McLaughlin said. Meanwhile, its U.S. e-commerce business rose 79%. Globally, the company expanded to about 7,300 pickup and 5,200 delivery locations. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have given more than $43 million in cash and in-kind donations to support COVID response efforts globally. Overall, the two organizations have given more than $1.4 billion in cash and in-kind contributions globally in fiscal 2021.

In September, the company announced a new team-based model and increased pay for 165,000 Walmart U.S. employees. After the company implemented the wage increases in March, the average hourly pay for U.S. employees was over $15.25 per hour. Over the past year, the company also gave $2.8 billion in bonuses to U.S. employees and hired 500,000 employees, many of whom had been displaced from other jobs because of the pandemic. Total compensation for U.S. hourly employees was $19.50 per hour as of the end of January.

About 75% of the company’s salaried store, club and supply chain management employees started in hourly positions. U.S. store managers, who are not required to have a college degree, earned an average of $210,000 over the past fiscal year.

The company trained 95,000 employees through its formal training program, Walmart Academy, including in-person and virtual training. More than 80% of graduates are retained for an additional year. Through Live Better U, the company provides eligible U.S. employees an opportunity to complete higher education debt-free. At the end of 2020, the company’s employees had completed 290,000 college credits worth more than $123 million.

Following are some other highlights noted in the ESG report:

  • Invest $350 billion in products made, grown or assembled in the United States over the next 10 years.
  • Sourced more than $13 billion in goods and services from 2,900 suppliers for its U.S. business over the 2021 fiscal year.