Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world’s largest retailer, today unveiled a multibillion-dollar women’s initiative, three months after winning dismissal of a gender- bias case from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The plan includes buying $20 billion of products from U.S. female-owned businesses in the next five years and training women to work in factories and retail around the globe. The world’s largest private employer also will provide more than $100 million in grants to non-profit organizations aiding women.
Wal-Mart will ask some companies such as ad agencies it works with to hire and promote more women, said Deisha Galberth, a spokeswoman. The move mirrors programs the retailer has previously announced, including efforts to buy more food from farmers located near its stores.
“We’re stepping up our efforts to help educate, source from and open markets for women around the world,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June rejected an effort on behalf of as many as 1 million female workers to sue Wal-Mart for discrimination. Filed in 2001, the suit aimed to cover every woman who worked at the retailer’s Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club’s stores at any point since December 1998, including those not hired until years after the suit was filed.
The justices said the lawyers pressing the case failed to point to a common corporate policy that led to gender discrimination against workers at thousands of stores across the country.
Wal-Mart may still face smaller gender discrimination lawsuits in lower courts and claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The Wal-Mart public-relations machine is spinning overtime on this,” said Brian Sozzi, an analyst at Wall Street Strategies in New York. “They are doing their best job to try and get out in front of any potential future lawsuits, while at the same time appear better in the cases remaining.” Sozzi recommends holding the shares.
In a conference call today with reporters Sarah Thorn, a company spokeswoman, said increased support for women-owned suppliers wasn’t related to the lawsuit.
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