The annual meeting of the retail giant Wal-Mart was held in Arkansas on Friday amidst protests from activists and striking workers. Around 100 Wal-Mart workers took part in a national caravan to protest what they allege to be illegal retaliation against those seeking to change company practices on wages, worker safety and unions. Inside the meeting, shareholders and their proxies were offered a brief window to present non-binding resolutions. The measures were all defeated because the founding Walton family still owns more than half the company’s stock. Kalpona Akter, a workers’ rights activist from Bangladesh, urged Wal-Mart to drop its rejection of new safety standards proposed in the aftermath of the Dhaka building collapse that killed over 1,100 workers in April. Janet Sparks, a Louisiana Wal-Mart employee and member of the group OUR Walmart, drew applause from the crowd of thousands, including many of her colleagues, when she raised the plight of struggling U.S. workers and criticized CEO Mike Duke’s $20.7 million paycheck.
Janet Sparks: “We all know that times are tough for many of our customers. But I want you to know that times are tough for many Wal-Mart associates, too. We are stretching our paychecks to pay our bills and support our families. … So when I think about the fact that our CEO, Mike Duke, made over $20 million last year — more than 1,000 times the average Wal-Mart associate — with all due respect, I have to say, I don’t think that’s right.”
Although some activists made it inside the meeting, a number were kept away after Wal-Mart won restraining orders against protesters and labor groups.