September 6, 2013

On Thursday, organizers say that more than 100 Walmart workers and activists were arrested in a mass protest across 15 US cities. This wasn’t the first time workers have called for the retail giant to reform its labor practices–on Black Friday in 2012, organizers say they brought out 30,000 protesters to demonstrate outside Walmart stores (…)


But Walmart employees aren’t the only stakeholders demanding better standards. Earlier this summer, around the time of Walmart’s annual shareholder conference, two of its Dutch pension fund investors, PGGM and Mn Services, grew fed up with Walmart’s lack of reform and divested.


GES, for example, a responsible investment services group based out of Stockholm, has been engaging with Walmart for more than a decade. They’re not direct shareholders, but instead serve a community of Walmart shareholders, as well as those interested in sustainable and ethical business. Tytti Kaasinen, senior engagement manager at GES, says that her company has been trying to get Walmart to comply with the UN’s International Labor Organization standards, increase transparency, and address discrimination and harassment, but that doing so has been a struggle.

“If Walmart doesn’t show appropriate improvement in performance, and if it doesn’t become more responsive to concerns, then we would consider the exclusion option as well,” she said. “But we are still recommending the engagement option at the moment.”

Kaasinen adds that while yesterday’s labor protests may not have a direct impact on investors’ willingness to pressure Walmart from within, they certainly play an ongoing role in contributing to bad publicity in aggregate–and that could affect material investments.

“I think many are now losing patience,” Kaasinen said. “Many have been giving Walmart the benefit of the doubt and really waiting and hoping it will take practical measures in response to pressure that it is constantly under, and really reacting to the bad publicity that it unfortunately keeps getting,” she added. “I think that was the message from PGGM, that it’s been trying to engage with Walmart, but it was tired of trying.”


By Sydney Brownstone