Even a business publication like Barrron’s should know better than to let Walmart claim victory on ESG without checking with employees and outside sources to see how meaningful their changes are.
Lots of companies have gotten serious about environmental, social, and governance issues in recent years. But few are more surprising than Walmart. That’s not just because of its sheer size—2.2 million employees, 11,500 retail locations, and revenues that exceed the gross domestic product of most countries—but also because Walmart (ticker: WMT) has long been anathema to socially conscious consumers and investors. Environmentalists bemoaned the company’s massive carbon footprint, gun advocates criticized it for selling assault-style rifles, and workplace advocates demanded that it raise its hourly minimum wage. “They’ve gone from being seen as a problem to becoming a significant part of the solution,” says John Streur, the CEO of Calvert Research and Management, a leader in ESG research and investing. Early last year, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon began a two-year term as chairman of the Business Roundtable, the CEO trade group that recently said that corporations must act on behalf of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. In Walmart’s 140-page ESG report, McMillon writes, “There are a lot of stereotypes out there about Walmart. It’s no secret to us that we have critics who assume we’re doing business at the expense of people and the planet—that we’re all talk. The fact is, though, we’ve been working hard to use our scale to create positive change for a long time now.” This shift hasn’t been lost on Wall Street. “Walmart is moving faster and with more purpose and more responsibility for all of its stakeholders, and really it’s trying to evolve and change with the changing times,” says Michael Lasser, who covers Walmart for UBS. “Walmart Stock Could Benefit as ESG Investors Add it to Their Funds | Barron’s