The final vote count from the Walmart annual meeting is in. With the Walton family owning a majority of company shares, the results were in effect pre-determined. (Spoiler alert: the vote went the way the Waltons wanted. And critics say the new board is weaker and less independent than the old one.) But like last year, the shareholder vote demonstrates considerable dissatisfaction with the company’s leadership, particularly audit committee chair Christopher Williams, CEO Mike Duke, and Chairman Rob Walton.
Williams was a member of the board’s audit committee when allegations of bribery in Mexico first arose. Oddly enough, despite failing to ensure proper internal controls in the first place, the audit committee is the group responsible for overseeing the company’s internal investigation into the scandal. Meanwhile, Duke and Walton were personally made aware of the bribery allegations, according to The New York Times, and they were at the helm as senior management allegedly stymied an internal investigation into the allegations.
It’s worth looking at the election results excluding the Walton family’s shares. Excluding the Walton family’s shares, more than 30 percent of shareholders voted against Williams and Duke, while 25 percent voted against Walton. In addition, 35 percent of non-Walton shareholders supported a proposal that would require an independent board chair. (Spoiler alert #2: Evidently Rob Walton likes his job as board chair, because he and his family voted against an independent chair.)
A Walmart spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that the results showed a vote of confidence in “the board’s leadership, strong governance principles, and diversity of experience.” Actually, shareholders are apparently a lot less confident than they used to be. Back in 2011, before the allegations of bribery in Mexico (and subsequent, increasingly costly investigations), before Walmart associates went on repeated strikes, before bad publicity about empty shelves and understaffed stores, and before the latest round of human rights disasters in the company’s supply chain, all of the company’s directors were elected with over 98 percent of the shareholder vote.
This all raises an important question: What does Walmart need to do to restore shareholder confidence?