Wednesday’s proxy statement contained the interesting (though not entirely unexpected) news that Christopher Williams will not be seeking re-election to Walmart’s Board of Directors. According to Walmart, Williams is stepping down after 10 years on the board in accordance with the company’s guidelines on the tenure of outside directors. Whether that’s the whole story behind Williams’s departure or not, we don’t know, but regardless of the reason for Williams’s departure, we can think of two groups that are probably happy to see him go:
Investors who favor stronger internal controls at Walmart: Williams was on the board’s audit committee when the whistleblower who alleged systematic bribery at Walmex came forward in September 2005. He had chaired the audit committee since 2008. The bribery allegations, and subsequent FCPA investigation, suggest that audit committee members, including Williams, failed to ensure proper internal controls or heed shareholders’ repeated calls to strengthen compliance standards. It’s likely this connection to the failures of the audit committee and the ongoing bribery scandal that led 30% of non-Walton family shareholders—including many large institutional investors—to vote against Williams’ re-election to the board last year.
Walmart associates: In addition, Williams has been silent on Walmart’s labor problems. For nearly three years, he has ignored numerous requests from Organization United for Respect at Walmart members for him to listen to their concerns about working at Walmart—especially their concerns about Walmart’s illegal retaliation against associates who speak out for change at work. Last September, three Walmart associates were arrested in New York City after they tried to deliver a petition to Williams’s office.
Walmart’s annual meeting isn’t until June 6, so Williams still has a few weeks left as a Walmart director. What if he used his remaining time as a director to push for better governance and oversight at Walmart? Or if he listened to Walmart associates and what they are saying about making Walmart better and ensuring that Walmart ends its illegal retaliation against associates?