Management Corporate Social Responsibilities

Management – Corporate Social Responsibilities

Social Responsibility at Wal-Mart

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The aim of this paper is to identify if and how a multi-national organization understands and implements the concepts of social responsibility and in turn, how these concepts have affected the company’s operations. To offer an answer to the posed question, various resources will be studied, including the testimonials of Wal-Mart advocates and disclaimers, as well as resources written by neutral individuals and groups.

The contemporaneous business community is constantly marked by change that affects all aspects of how companies conduct their operations. They pay closer attention to the numerous regulations imposed by the government, first of all to reduce additional costs due to fines and then to attract the admiration of the general public. The companies then try to maximize the corporate value to gain more profits but also to satisfy the interests of their shareholders. Also, organizations place a greater than ever emphasis onto the complete satisfaction of their customers’ needs and wants and increase their efforts to improve the on the job satisfaction of their staff members. Finally, they try to develop and integrate the latest technologies that not only increase the efficiency of the administrative and operational processes, but also reduce the level of adherent pollution, to the satisfaction and demands of the environmental organizations. The government, the general public, the environmental organizations, the investors, the customers and the employees, alongside with any other group or individual that is directly affected by the company’s operations form the category of stakeholders. And to the benefit of their stakeholders, multinational organizations implement the concepts of social responsibility. “Social responsibility may be defined as balancing the pursuit of one’s individual goals with the needs of others in establishing a safe and just world and ensuring the continuation of a democratic society” (Thompson and Smith, 1991).

2. Social Responsibility at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart was founded in 1962 in Arkansas and it is today the largest chain of supermarkets in America. Along the years, the company registered success after success and began to expand its operations internationally. The primary strategy at the basis of Wal-Mart’s corporate success was given by their pursuit of the lowest prices. The organization has often been accused of illicit or at least immoral operations, such as the insufficient employee benefits or the ruining of local mom & pop stores. But the company continued to remain strong and increased its awareness of the social impacts of their operations.

2.1 Stakeholders

As established in the introduction, stakeholders represent the individuals and groups of individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by the operations conducted by the multinational organization. And the fact that they are affected by Wal-Mart, gives them the right to make certain demands, to which the company often responds. In this line of thoughts, the supermarket chain has often been affected by the requests and complaints forwarded by its stakeholders.


The company states that they respect the rights and individuality of each and every employee, but some of them tend to disagree. In this particular instance, along the years, several staff members have intended law suits against their employer alleging discriminatory behavior and a breaking of their rights. A primary concern was that of the low wages received by the Wal-Mart employees, which attracted the interest of various individuals. “People are shocked that Wal-Mart employees are paid so little that they not only qualify for government aid, Wal-Mart helps them get it” (Spotts and Greenwald, 2005).

The company was influenced by this category of stakeholders from two perspectives:

First of all, the company had to reduce costs and retail prices, and as such paid the employees less than minimum wage, which eventually caused several internal problems: low personnel morale, lack of motivation and reduced performances to culminate with poor quality of the services delivered and dissatisfied customers

Then, in trying to repair the damage, the multinational company had to invest large sums of money and repair their reputation and public perception.


The people in the communities where Wal-Mart decides to open a new store often receive the initiative with reticence. And they do this out of the belief that large stores tend to ‘kill’ the small local stores, also know and mom & pop stores. And to counteract these beliefs, the multinational organization invests large sums of money into the development of the communities. “Wal-Mart, Neighborhood Markets and SAM’S CLUB help communities through matching funds, grants and other funding to local groups […] This Wal-Mart (in Kentucky) raised funds to support their local community’s military unit in Iraq, contributed to their local food bank and helped a local child’s Make-a-Wish dream come true” (Wal-Mart 2006 Annual Report). The company also created an image of a large job creator and employer and a major contributor to community development to the large taxes they pay annually.


The Wal-Mart customers are most importantly driven by the low prices implemented by the organization. But they also expect the products purchased to meet certain standards of quality – and this sometimes fails to happen. Importing the cheapest products from various countries and in sometimes improper conditions, the final quality is often damaged. The customers were initially mesmerized by the low prices and cared less about the quality of the products, but their demands are currently increasing. Foremost, due to the low wages received, the staff was delivering low quality services, which also dissatisfied the customers. The complaints of both employees and customers are soothing the organization should strategically consider, but they do not represent a real threat as they can easily be replaced. In other words, if some Wal-Mart employees leave their jobs, others will come and take the free positions. And if some dissatisfied customers complain, chances are they will still continue to purchase from the store; and if they don’t, there are others who will. An actual position in this matter remains yet to be taken.


It is a generally accepted fact that suppliers often have a great impact upon the organization as a change in the price of commodities can easily impact the retail price to the end consumer and consequently the politics implemented and revenues registered by the organization. In the case of Wal-Mart however, the purveyors have a rather limited influence upon the multinational organization, as the first is the one that dictates mostly. “A company with a brand name such as […] Wal-Mart effectively controls a long chain of frequently shifting suppliers based primarily in low-wage countries, thus controlling much of what suppliers do: what product quality standards and schedules must be met, what products will be produced” (Florini, 2003)

These four categories are the primary which affect the operations undergone by Wal-Mart, but aside from them, there are also the governmental and non-governmental institutions. Both of these categories issues demands and regulations for the protection of the general public and the consumers, and in this particular sense, the multinational organization will have to comply with more rules and in doing so, they will have to invest larger sums of money.

2.2 Organizational Responses to Social Demands

There is a wide variety of social demands to which Wal-Mart has to answer.


The opinions on Wal-Mart proaction vary, with division between statements of strong and basically inexistent proaction. As mentioned before, the company mostly relies on its ability to implement the lowest prices on the market and this then in turns offers then growing numbers of customers, who often accept the not so high quality of the products and services. On the other hand, the company emphasizes on its efforts to raise its social responsibility and sustain the communities and the general society in improving the quality of their lives. The multinational company does this by respecting the rights of their employees, by organizing and sponsoring social events and by trying to sell the best products. “That’s why we are doubling the organic product and socially responsible offerings in select U.S. Wal-Mart stores. SAM’S CLUB also is expanding its array of organic and socially responsible products by more than 100 new items, such as Brazilian Marques de Paiva USDA organic coffee” (Wal-Mart 2006 Annual Report).


The level of accommodation as a response to the social demands made by Wal-Mart stakeholders can be looked at from two angles. First of all, it could be compared against the numerous complaints. In spite of them and their long history, the company continues to engage in dubious actions, such as offering low quality products and paying low employee wages and limited benefits. Then, the accommodation could be compared against the actions taken so far by the company. In this particular instance, it becomes obvious that Wal-Mart has increased its efforts to operate according on increased levels of social responsibility. “Hurricane Katrina helped change a lot of minds within Wal-Mart. When the government was unable to deliver necessities like food, medicine and water to those who were stranded, Wal-Mart stepped in. “We literally saved thousands of lives,” Blackwell said. “What Katrina showed us was how we can use our size and resources to do something very good.” Inspired by its role in helping Katrina victims, Wal-Mart looked at the impact a company its size could have throughout the world on a daily basis if it embraced corporate social responsibility (CSR)” (Ferdinand, 2007). But despite of this, a certain level of accommodation continues to exist.


The accusations brought to the supermarket chain are endless and they are likely to continue in the future as well. But the company has fought hard to counteract the harmful effects. Their best defense has been built on arguments such as:

Wal-Mart associate (employee) makes $17,000 per year and he is free to look for another job if he is dissatisfied

The company offers low prices, allowing as such the population to increase its savings and live a better life

The company obeys by the legal rules and their sole purpose is to maximize corporate value, not become a social institution (Wake Up Wal-Mart Blog, 2005)


The company has made efforts to conduct their operations as according to the viable legislation. But other than actually respecting the laws to best of its ability, the company has been mostly centered on achieving its personal goals. Foremost, the company officials themselves declared that Wal-Mart was not intended as a social organization, but as a profitable one, who’s only responsibilities are to maximize shareholder value and to respect the law (Wake Up Wal-Mart Blog, 2005).

2.3 Social Responsibility

Economic Responsibilities

Wal-Mart has to obey the regulations imposed by various national and international organizations in regard to:

fair competition international trading market trading and stock operations distribution of profits, acquiring of additional investments

Legal Responsibilities

The multinational company has to operate according to the following legal obligations:

fair and equal treatment of all employees (salary, equal opportunities to promotion, annual vacation days, weekly and daily rest and so on) the timely payment of the state taxes lack of discriminatory policies product quality

Ethical Responsibilities the development of the communities where it activates fair and respectful treatment of all employees

Discretionary Responsibilities

The company is privately own and therefore has the freedom to implement any discretionary policies. These policies are given by the type of operations conducted, the number of subsidies and employees as well as a wide number of other features which reveal the uniqueness of Wal-Mart. A relevant example of such a discretionary responsibility is that of caring for all of its stores across the globe. For instance, say a store is registering losses and another is registering high profits; then the mother company will distribute the profits as to be sufficient and sustain both stores.

3. Conclusions

Wal-Mart is the largest American chain of supermarkets and despite it being the epitome of corporate success, it has attracted endless accusations and has generated endless disputes. The company used various methods to answer to the accusations, the most relevant ones being proaction, when the company set out to prove the accusers wrong and engaged in various operations; the accommodation, where it relied on its reputation and low prices to take no action and hope the disclaimers would cease their protests; the defense, actions during which Wal-Mart explained their operations and basically stated that it was not their obligation to respect all social aspects, but only the legal ones, as they were a profitable not social organization. Whichever social responsibility strategy adopted and despite the disputes, fact remains that Wal-Mart is the story of a success and an American icon.


Anderson, J.W. Jr., 1989, Corporate Social Responsibility: Guidelines for Top Management, Quorum Books

Berkhout, T., January-February 2005, Corporate Gains: Corporate Social Responsibility Can Be the Strategic Engine for and Responsible Social Development, Alternatives Journal, Vol. 31

Cahiles-Magkilat, B., January 9, 2001, Wal-Mart in Talks with Uniwide on Possible Tie-Up, Manila Bulletin

Gary, D., Summer 2004, Imperial Design: Theological Ethics and the Ideologies of International Politics, Cross Currents, Vol. 54

Ferdinand, a., February 14, 2007, Wal-Mart Determined to Lead in Corporate Social Responsibility, News and Information, McCombs School of Business

Florini, a., Spring 2003, Business and Global Governance: The Growing Role of Corporate Codes of Conduct, Brookings Review, Vol. 21

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Sims, R.R., 2003, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Why Giants Fall, Praeger

Spotts, G., Greenwald, R., November 2005, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, the Disinformation Company

Thompson, J.K., Smith, H.L., 1991, Social Responsibility and Small Business: Suggestions for Research, Journal of Small Business Management, Vol. 29

Vance, S.S., Scott, R.V., October 1994, Wal-Mart: A History of Sam Walton’s Retail Phenomenon, Macmillan Library Reference

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Wal-Mart Annual Report for 2006, Retrieved at http://www.walmartstores.com/Files/2006_annual_report.pdf, on May 8, 2008

2005, a Response to the “Wal-Mart Defense,” Wale Up Wal-Mart Blog, last accessed on May 8, 2008

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