In addition to being the world’s largest retailer, Walmart Inc. is also something of a lightning rod for issues that strike at the heart of society and big business.
That comes to the fore each year when the company files its proxy statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, teeing up the shareholder votes that will take place this year at its May 31 annual meeting.
As usual, shareholders weighed in with a number of proposals — eight this time — pushing Walmart to look closer at issues from worker pay to diversity to gun violence and more.
Walmart opposed all the shareholder proposals, which tend to only pass when backed by the company. While the retailer argues in many cases that it is already addressing the issues in one way or another, some shareholders clearly want more action.
The proposals usually come in corporate-speak and underscore the value a new report or audit would have to shareholders, but the shareholder asks target topics that are broader in scope than just retail or profits.
It’s an annual exercise that shows some of retail’s pressure points and offers a view on how Walmart, which logged revenues of $611 billion last year, is handling the issues. Here, a look at where the shareholders will be shining the spotlight at Walmart’s annual meeting.
Worker and CEO Pay
The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration has asked the company to “take into consideration the pay grades and/or salary ranges of all classifications of Walmart employees when setting target amounts for chief executive officer compensation.”
The proposal cites a JUST Capital survey finding that 87 percent of people agree the CEO-worker pay gap is a problem and notes that Walmart’s median associate pay was $25,335 last year.
Walmart argued that its current practices “already align with the outcomes the proposal seeks to achieve” and that its frontline hourly associates have seen their pay rise faster than their CEO’s since 2015.
However, Walmart, which has a small host of CEOs to run the business and its various divisions, has long given its leaders multimillion-dollar paydays.
On top of the corporate org chart is Doug McMillon, president and CEO of the overall corporation, who last year saw his compensation slip 1.4 percent to $25.3 million.
Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Walmart.
The lion’s share of that pay — $19.4 million — represents what’s called the “fair value” of stock awards as of their grant date, although the value that McMillon actually receives will depend on how Walmart’s shares perform on Wall Street. The idea is to link the CEO’s pay to the portfolios of shareholders and is relatively standard at big-time retailers.
McMillon also received a $1.5 million salary and $3 million in incentive pay.
At the divisional level, and including big stock payouts:
John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., received $14.1 million in pay.
Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International, saw compensation of $13.9 million.
Kathryn McLay, president and CEO of Sam’s Club, received $11.9 million.
Topping them all was John David Rainey, the company’s new chief financial officer, who received a $39.7 million pay package, including $32.7 million in stock awards and a $5 million bonus.
Oxfam America Inc. asked that Walmart prepare a report on its human rights due diligence process “to identify, assess, prevent and mitigate actual and potential adverse human rights impacts in its domestic and foreign operations and supply chains.”
Walmart said the company has already described its process, which “reflects the core elements” recognized by the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The organization United for Respect requested that the retailer “conduct a third-party, independent racial equity audit” looking at “adverse impacts on Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities.”
Walmart said it is “focused on supporting a workplace culture where every associate feels they belong. We have closely examined our business practices, consulted and continue to consult with internal and external stakeholders, and are transparent in our reporting. We believe our current approach — which will continue to evolve as our business evolves and expectations evolve — is right for us and that the requested equity audit is not necessary at this time.”
Reproductive Rights and Data Privacy
Shareholder Julie Kalish with the help of Clean Yield Asset Management asked Walmart to prepare a public report “detailing known and potential risks and costs to the company of fulfilling information requests relating to Walmart customers for the enforcement of state laws criminalizing abortion access.”
The proposal noted that while Walmart does not report on enforcement requests, tech giants Alphabet and Meta together received about 110,000 requests in the second half of 2021 and complied with around 80 percent of those requests.
“Walmart has sensitive personal data on consumers’ health, geolocation, internet activity, and purchases,” the proposal said. “This data could be accessed without consumer consent by states that criminalize abortion.”
Walmart countered that it has procedures that “help ensure customer data is handled lawfully and transparently.”
The National Legal and Policy Center asked for a report on “the nature and extent to which corporate operations depend on, and are vulnerable to, Communist China, which is a serial human rights violator, a geopolitical threat, and an adversary to the United States.”
Walmart noted that it already “reports on material risks facing the company.”
Workplace Safety & Violence
Shareholder Cynthia Murray proposed that Walmart “conduct a third-party, independent review of the impact of company policies and practices on workplace safety and violence, including gun violence.”
The proposal noted that, “between July 1, 2020 and November 22, 2022, there were at least 363 gun incidents and 112 gun deaths at Walmart…. Gun violence is an unprecedented public health crisis with substantial human and financial costs… Failure to effectively address workplace safety and violence exposes stakeholders, including employees, to unacceptable harms and exposes Walmart to financial, reputational, and legal risks.”
Walmart underscored its commitment to “health, safety, and security” and said the proposed report “would not aid Walmart in upholding this commitment.”