Honestly, I’m beginning to think that Wal-Mart might as well throw in the towel and change its smiley yellow happy face logo into something a bit more cynical—or, at the least, abandon all hopes of ever getting good PR. And this is not coming from a supporter of the retail behemoth—I’ve been quick to criticize their missteps in the past—but this recent road bump seems harsh, even by my standards.
As BusinessWeek reported today, Wal-Mart is facing new criticism over its treatment of employees, and all because it introduced three house-brand coffees that are fair-trade certified. You would think this fair-trade certification, which is part of CEO H. Lee Scott’s grand plan to “be supplied with 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and our environment,” would be applauded—or at least acknowledged—by critics, but alas … no such luck.
True, there is some irony in the announcement. After all, fair-trade certification implies that workers are paid fair wages, and Wal-Mart doesn’t score so well in the employee satisfaction department. Labor groups are calling Wal-Mart a hypocrite for selling coffee protected by fair trade agreements when it can’t even offer its own employees social and workers’ rights. Touche, yes, but if the company offered not-fair-trade coffee, these groups would complain just the same. And, if selling fair-trade coffee isn’t a step in the right direction, what can Wal-Mart do to begin digging itself out of the grave it unwittingly prepared for itself in recent years?
Then again, maybe the best time to face criticism is when you have absolutely nothing to lose—which seems to be “always” for Wal-Mart.
By Courtney Barnes