ABC News 2008 - When a South Carolina voter asked Bill Clinton about his wife's six-year stint on Wal-Mart's board of directors, the former president appeared primed and ready Thursday, ticking off a list of reasons why "it was the right thing for her to do."
The Obama campaign pounced on the former president's comments, acknowledging it is delighted Clinton's past work with Wal-Mart is becoming an issue in the campaign.
"If they want to defend her service to one of the least environmentally-friendly, least labor-union friendly companies in the country, they're welcome to do that," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., served on the board of the Arkansas-based company from 1986 to 1992 while her husband was governor of the state -- something the senator's chief rival. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pointed out during Monday's combative debate in South Carolina.
After getting a question from a voter during a campaign event, Bill Clinton suggested she helped the company become more environmentally-friendly and buy more American products.
...The former president then went one step further, defending Wal-Mart's record on the environment.
"Even Wal-Mart's strongest critics agree that it's one of the leading forces for trying to help make America more economically independent on the energy front," he said, pointing to the company's sales of energy-efficient light bulbs and its effort this year to reduce packaging by 5 percent.
Clinton also suggested he and his wife both helped to develop a "Buy America" program at Wal-Mart.
"For the time when I was governor and she was on the board, as compared with, let's say, K-Mart, Wal-Mart bought 10 percent more of its products manufactured in America," he said.
"So, yes, she served on the board, and, yes, I think it was the right thing to do under the circumstances of the time, the 1980s," Clinton said.
However, critics of Wal-Mart argue the former president's assessment is inaccurate.
"We respectfully disagree with former President Clinton's characterization of Wal-Mart as a benign, benevolent corporation striving for self-improvement either during Sen. Clinton's tenure on the board or at present," said David Nassar, executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, a union-financed group.
"While we don't have any insight into what Sen. Clinton advocated for while on the board of Wal-Mart, we do know that Wal-Mart has made no meaningful progress regarding the company's poor business practices, including gender discrimination, low wages, inadequate health care, overseas sourcing or environmental degradation," Nassar said.
This week the Obama campaign sent reporters opposition research suggesting that Clinton's "pro-free trade stance [is] linked to Wal-Mart's China imports" and posted a "fact check" to it's website about Clinton and Wal-Mart.
"Wal-Mart indulged in unfettered trade with China: forced labor goods, garments improperly labeled 'Made In USA,' smuggled goods that violate import quotas with China and even child labor products," reads Obama campaign material sent to reporters this week.
"All I know from her tenure on the board of Wal-Mart is what's been reported. That she didn't rock the boat, there were no changes for the better for women while she was there, and she didn't object to Wal-Mart's policies on labor unions," Burton said.
Joseph A. Palermo, Huffington Post, 2008 - There is no story in recent memory that better illustrates the tattered social contract between workers and corporations in this country than the story of Debbie Shank and Wal-Mart. Ms. Shank recently became a "Gold Star" mother when her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq.
Years ago while she was working for miserable wages as a shelf stocker at Wal-Mart, Ms. Shank was the innocent victim of a terrible automobile accident when a big rig slammed into her on a Missouri freeway. She suffered severe neurological damage that has permanently impaired her memory and motor skills and has made it impossible for her to function outside of the constant care of a nursing home.
Shank and her husband, Jim (who is recovering from prostate cancer and works two jobs), were awarded about $750,000 in a lawsuit against the trucking company. After the Shanks paid their legal fees, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie's long-term care. Wal-Mart sued the Shanks for $470,000 in medical expenses.
The behemoth corporation that made $11 billion in profits last year claimed the Shanks owed it the money because of a fine-print clause in her employee health benefits package that stipulates that Wal-Mart would recoup all medical costs if any court settlement had been reached. A Republican judge ruled in favor of Wal-Mart and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The ruling will completely clean out (and then some) the trust that was set aside for Debbie Shank's long-term care. Wal-Mart issued a terse statement worthy of an Adolf Eichmann defending their actions saying the corporation was only following "very specific rules." In other words, the Shanks could fuck themselves.
Hillary Clinton was on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart for 6 years. Wal-Mart paid her $18,000 each year she was on the board and $1,500 for every meeting she attended. She accumulated at least $100,000 in Wal-Mart stock. This might be the reason she refuses to release her tax records even though Barack Obama has done so. Maybe it's time we demand that she give back this blood money? Moreover, when Hillary Clinton was with the Rose Law firm in Little Rock she defended Wal-Mart against workers who tried to organize unions making the firm, in the words of labor leader Jonathan Tasini, "one of the most active anti-union law firms in the country."
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Jonathan Tasini, Common Dreams 2006 - With Wal-Mart rating as public enemy number one among many liberals, progressives and just regular voters, Clinton is finding her past ties to Wal-Mart too hot to handle so, presto, over the side the Beast of Bentonville must go.
... So, I had to chuckle when I read that Clinton, having never said a bad word about the company in the past, recently said that Wal-Mart should pay more for its workers' health benefits. And, to boot, she returned the $5,000 she had received from the company. But, when asked what she did about the company's benefits for workers when she served on the board, she replied, "Well, you know, I, that was a long time ago ... have to remember?"
... In 1992, Wal-Mart was simply smaller than it is today. But it was still huge, with $43.9 billion in net sales, 1,714 stores and 371,000 employees. Even in 1992, Wal-Mart was already the world?s largest retailer.
And the board Hillary Clinton sat on was rabidly anti-union, was exploiting sweatshop labor around the world, discriminating against women workers, forcing workers to labor off the clock and destroying communities that did not want them. This should not be a shock: Clinton was a partner in the Rose law firm, one of the most active anti-union law firms in the country.
ABC News, 2008 - In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world's largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.
Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.
Wal-Mart's anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton's fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years.
Tate was fond of repeating, as he did at a managers meeting in 2004 after his retirement, what he said was his favorite phrase, "Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living."
Wal-Mart says Tate's comments "were his own and do not reflect Wal-Mart's views."
But Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and other company officials often recounted how they relied on Tate to lead the company's successful anti-union efforts.
An ABC News analysis of the videotapes of at least four stockholder meetings where Clinton appeared shows she never once rose to defend the role of American labor unions.
... A former board member told ABCNews.com that he had no recollection of Clinton defending unions during more than 20 board meetings held in private.
The tapes show Clinton in the role of a loyal company woman. "I'm always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else," she said at a June 1990 stockholders meeting.
Clinton would not agree to be interviewed on the subject but now says she no longer shares Wal-Mart's values and believes unions "have been essential to our nation's success."
..."We've got a very strong-willed young woman on our board now; her name is Hillary," said Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton at a 1987 stockholders meeting in describing Clinton's role in pushing for more women to be hired in management positions.
Critics say Clinton's efforts produced few tangible results, and Wal-Mart is now defending itself in a lawsuit brought by 16 current and former female employees.
"I don't doubt the sincerity of her efforts, but we don't see much evidence that conditions for women at Wal-Mart changed much during the late 1980s and early 1990s," said Joe Sellers, one of the lawyers suing Wal-Mart on behalf of the women.
... According to the New York Times,
Sen. Clinton "maintains close ties to Wal-Mart executives through the
Democratic Party and the tightly knit Arkansas business community." The
May 20, 2007 article also reported that her husband, former President
Clinton, "speaks frequently to Wal-Mart's current chief executive, H.
Lee Scott Jr." and held a private dinner at the Clinton's New York home
in July 2006 for him.