Tomorrow, Walmart shareholders will gather at the Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for the company’s annual meeting, beginning at 7AM CDT. These meetings have grown to be star-studded events, but industry watchers will look past the celebrity emcee and performers and watch as the board of directors, executives, and company practices come under scrutiny by shareholders.
Shareholders will elect Walmart’s board of directors for the coming year. The votes should be interesting given that the company remains in the shadow of the purported Mexican bribery scandal exposed by the New York Times just a few weeks ago. Current CEO Mike Duke was head of Walmart International at the time the alleged bribery took place in Mexico. At the same time, Rob Walton was the board chair, a position he still holds, and current board member Lee Scott was then the CEO of the entire company.
In recent weeks, a number of major funds have said that they’ll be voting against some or all of Walmart’s board of directors, and several major proxy advisory services have also urged votes against certain board members. We’ve put together a scorecard so you can follow along.
In addition to electing the board, there are two especially interesting shareholder proposals up for vote. Proposal #6 calls for greater disclosure about incentive pay, and was introduced by Mary Tifft, Jackie Goebel, Girshriela Green, and Carlton Smith, all of whom are current Walmart associates, with collectively over 60 years of service with the company. Hourly Walmart associates who hold shares in the company have been reaching out to fellow shareholders in a first-ever campaign-style GOTV effort through the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). There are hundreds of thousands of shareholders who are either current or former Walmart retail associates. These associates are not alone in their support of the proposal; influential proxy advisory firm ISS recommended that its 1,700 clients vote for greater disclosure on incentive pay as well.
Proposal #4 on this year’s proxy calls for greater disclosure of Walmart’s political contributions. At least seven groups have come out in favor of this measure, but Walmart opposes it. We know the company’s PAC spends millions in contributions to candidates and other PACs ($1.9 million already this federal election cycle!), but there are other activities that Walmart may be partaking in without shareholders’ knowledge. Under the Citizens’ United decision, corporations are able to use unlimited corporate treasury funds on independent expenditure campaigns, sometimes without disclosure. Corporations are also able to funnel money through outside groups like trade associations to achieve political goals without disclosure of their activities. Since disclosure isn’t required, it is impossible to know if Walmart uses these methods and if their actions run counter to shareholders’ interests.
Tune into Walmart’s annual meeting this Friday to see how things unfold. Walmart will be streaming the event here. On Twitter the company is using the hashtag #WMTshares for the meeting. Join the discussion, and show your support of Walmart associates by sending an email to the board of directors here.