Based on discussions with philanthropic and nongovernmental organizations, academics, and government leaders, Walmart has announced a five-year initiative that aims to use the company's size and scale to empower women across its supply chain.
The Global Women's Economic Empowerment initiative will provide training and career opportunities to 60,000 women working in factories and farms that supply Walmart; expand access to the company's international training programs and provide job education and training to more than 200,000 women in the United States; increase gender diversity among major suppliers; and award $100 million in grants through the Walmart Foundation to support women's economic empowerment. Over the next five years, the company also intends to source $20 billion in products from women-owned businesses — an average of $4 billion per year, compared to the $2.5 billion per year that the company currently spends on such efforts.
In addition, the company has established country-specific goals for the initiative, which include providing assistance to female farmers in China to help make their operations more sustainable; providing retail skills training and career development services to women in India; hiring female construction workers to help build the company's new stores in Brazil; launching a program to improve the lives of women factory workers in Bangladesh, India, and other major sourcing markets; and helping female suppliers in Central America expand their businesses.
Although a class-action lawsuit against Walmart which charged unfair treatment of women in the workplace was recently rejected by the Supreme Court, the company still faces the possibility of a host of individual claims, the New York Times reports. Critics of the giant retailer that the initiative is an attempt on its part to deflect attention away from the litigation and will do little to empower women. "Once again, Walmart is avoiding every issue that touches on how its products are produced," former AFL-CIO official Janet Shenk told the Times. "It's not about who owns the factory. So far as I know, there's no evidence that factories and businesses owned by women treat their employees better or have better conditions than factories and businesses owned by men."
But Helene Gayle, president and CEO of international development and relief agency CARE, welcomed the initiative. "This effort recognizes the untapped power of women around the world, and CARE is honored to partner with Walmart on this groundbreaking initiative," said Gayle. "Together we can sustainably and dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of women — factory workers and farmers among them. Together we will see these women change the lives of their families and communities for the better."