Walmart CEO Mike Duke was named to Forbes’ Most Powerful list this month. He came in at #17, and those placing ahead of him were mostly heads of state; the Pope; Bill Gates; and the mayor of a city with no Walmarts, Michael Bloomberg.
The factors Forbes used to calculate Duke’s power were fairly standard. “[P]ower over lots of people”: check. Mike Duke oversees 2.2 million Walmart employees worldwide. “[T]he financial resources controlled by each person”: check. Walmart’s profits were over $15.7 billion last year. Finally, the people at Forbes say they “made sure that the candidates actively used their power.” Here, we’re not so sure we agree. Certainly, Mike Duke didn’t use his power as CEO of Walmart for the best this year.
In 2012, the New York Times revealed a massive bribery scandal and cover up at Walmart de Mexico. It was also the year Mike Duke received only 70% of non-Walton votes in his reelection to Walmart’s board, a big drop from 99% the previous year, as Forbes points out. This was the year Walmart had to suspend supplier CJ’s Seafood of Louisiana amid accusations of forced labor and other safety and labor violations. 2012 was the year when workers at Walmart-contracted warehouses in California and Illinois walked off the job over unsafe working conditions and, in California, named Walmart as a defendant in a major wage theft class action suit. Then, just a few weeks ago, Mike Duke saw history being made as associates at Walmart stores across the country took part in the biggest strike ever at the retailer. Mike Duke is ending this year facing the fallout of a tragedy: the deaths of 112 workers in a fire at a Bangladesh factory, where five of the fourteen production lines were used to make goods for sale at Walmart. Worse, it turns out that Walmart had previously refused to pay to help suppliers at Bangladesh factories upgrade their facilities and improve fire safety.
Forbes is right, Mike Duke is the CEO of a huge company and influences the lives of millions, but the list of his accomplishments in 2012 is dismal. We have just one request for him next year: Respect for Walmart associates in stores and up and down the supply chain.