Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wal-Mart's environmental conference in Beijing

Wal-Mart announced during an environmental conference it's holding in Beijing that it's going to begin applying higher labor and environmental standards for many of its Chinese suppliers.

The company also announced that "within China, Wal-Mart would aim by 2010 to cut water use in half in all stores, design and open a prototype store that used 40 percent less energy, and reduce energy use in existing stores by 30 percent. “People will judge us,” (CEO Lee Scott) said, “based on the results.”

Wal-Mart gets it. If they reduce water use in half, and reduce energy use by 30 to 40 percent, they'll save millions and millions of dollars. (Consider that in the US, they're the largest private consumer of electricity.) And the move is great for their image. It's a win-win.

Also from the article: “Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional,” Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, plans to say at the Beijing summit, according to his prepared remarks. “I firmly believe that a company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts, will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers.”

Good point. And makes a lot of sense from a PR standpoint. I do find it interesting that nothing is mentioned about the morality of employing 14-year-olds, who have to work in dangerous, unhealthy conditions, or of poisoning the rivers and drinking water of the people who live near these factories. I realize that "the business of business is business," but as Americans, aren't we supposed to be better than that? (Whoops, there I go again, caring about the sanctity of the lives of other humans. I guess that's the liberal hippie in me coming out.)