TOUGH questions were raised for Wal-Mart’s top directors at the world’s biggest retailer’s star-studded AGM in Arkansas yesterday.
One shareholder called for chairman Rob Walton to stand down following a “serious scandal” in relation to bribery allegations in Mexico and calls for employees to be paid more.
Wal-Mart, which owns Leeds-based Asda, was asked to explain why one of the richest families in the world is paying the majority of associates (employees) less than $25,000 (£14,889) a year.
Employee Charmaine Givens-Thomas told the meeting: “Something is wrong when the richest family in America pays hundreds of thousands of workers so little that they cannot survive without public assistance.”
Asda emerged as a distinct winner at the AGM, which was attended by 14,000 shareholders and workers from around the globe including 170 colleagues from the Leeds-based grocer.
Wal -Mart’s new chief executive Doug McMillon championed the achievements that Asda has made in its e-commerce operation, saying that much can be learned from its UK arm.
Showing the audience a picture of an Asda lorry parked outside a London tube station, Mr McMillon said that Asda is leading the way when it comes to ordering online and picking up groceries on the way home.
“Our purpose of saving people money will always be relevant, but we’ll do it in new ways,” he told the audience.
“We’re going to invent the new, and bring together the digital world e-commerce with the physical world of our stores.”
The Asda contingent made their voices heard throughout the four-hour event, which made repeated references to the innovations that Asda has introduced to the larger group.
Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced the launch of its ‘savings catcher’ initiative, which promises to match rivals’ prices.
The retailer said that the idea for the service came from Asda’s Price Guarantee, which was launched three years ago. There are no plans for Wal-Mart to adopt Asda’s promise to be 10 per cent cheaper than rivals.
The event, held at the University of Arkansas’s Bud Walton arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas, attracted a stream of international pop stars.
The meeting was hosted by New Orleans-born actor and singer Harry Connick Jr, who was joined on stage by Happy singer, Pharrell Williams, who also sang the best-selling single Blurred Lines alongside Robin Thicke.
Asda’s CEO Andy Clarke was among the audience at the meeting.
“You come here and you see the scale of the business,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“It reminds us of the opportunities we have as being part of the world’s largest retailer.
“It’s great to bring 170 Asda colleagues here and get to spend some time with them. They are very aware of how competitive the market is and how well we’re doing.”
British-born David Cheesewright, president and CEO of Wal-Mart International, told the meeting how customers are changing.
“Wherever we operate, everything starts with the customer, and I see customers’ shopping habits changing more rapidly than I can remember,” he said.
“Customers are shopping more online, with mobile devices, and they really like convenience.
“If our customer changes fast, we have to change even faster if we want to continue to exceed their expectations.”