Here’s how Wal-Mart works in its supply chain

While most Americans are familiar with Walmart Stores (NYSE: WMT), just how much interaction does the world’s largest retailer have with its employees? Well, during a story about a Walmart employee who came forward about sexual harassment at the company, NPR’s “Morning Edition” pulled back the curtain on how this big-box chain works in its vast supply chain.

A recent NPR report revealed that while women make up only 20 percent of Walmart’s workforce, women account for 60 percent of what makes up the boxes going into the millions of smaller ones delivered to stores weekly. While this is a small portion of the entire Walmart supply chain, local and regionally-regulated Walmart workers run a huge percentage of this process.

For example, there are less than 30 workers at a single store in the Southeast, while there are hundreds at a store in Minneapolis or Boston. While the roles vary, the people who meet with and package food and other ingredients are mostly women. At Wal-Mart stores, women also make up 75 percent of the pitchwomen and pitchmeisters (the employees who speak to potential customers).

At Walmart, women make up more than half of the deans who review recruitment efforts. In 2012, we heard from a number of women who said that they were bullied and harassed when they tried to complain about workplace harassment — and a lot of times their managers failed to believe them. Our report also uncovered some startling numbers in a survey of 1,000 Walmart employees in 27 states and D.C. We discovered that 40 percent of those who reported sexual harassment felt it took too long for action to be taken; almost half felt ignored.

What we didn’t find, however, was that after a lot of stories about sexual harassment on a college campus, a few congressmen got together and got the massive university to not only keep records of reports of sexual harassment, but also to remind itself of those policies. That’s not what is happening at Wal-Mart.

At the end of our report, for instance, we look at how this large institution works in tandem with its suppliers — which, for the first time, are adopting new policies of their own to tackle sexual harassment. Wal-Mart also didn’t have a formal harassment policy until 2011 — and what was in that policy was not exactly comprehensive.

We imagine that if we were on the front lines of a well-known brand, we wouldn’t want to work for an organization that just doesn’t care enough to protect our most important assets: our bodies and minds. So, when Walmart was being praised for how it handled a series of workplace sexual harassment cases in the late ’90s, what really stands out was what its critics called its “super-awful” set of guidelines that looked nothing like policy and supported harassment in practice.

Right now, considering the taints it’s casting over its employees and the country’s economy as a whole, how can Wal-Mart go back to being one of the greatest economic drivers on the planet?

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