Today's Washington Post has a front-page article on Wal-Mart's efforts to engage opposition in such obvious ways as heavier political expenditures but also with support of an international conservation organization.
For years, the company ignored the attacks, content to hunker down at its headquarters in remote Bentonville, Ark. But as sales began to slow, efforts to expand were blocked and the chorus of critics spread to lawmakers in Washington, the retailer realized it had to act. The partnership between Walton and Conservation International is part of a radical new approach that Wal-Mart calls engaging the opposition.
The environment is the first front.
"It was never part of the conversation before," Walton said during an interview in which he was accompanied by Conservation International's chairman Peter A. Seligmann and Kayapo chief Megaron Txucarramae. "And it's part of every conversation now."
The overarching goal is to improve the company's image so it can operate unhindered by the automatic opposition its reputation has inspired. It also had a specific legislative agenda spanning issues such as normal trade relations with China and the number of hours truck drivers are allowed to work. In its attempt to make its desires known, it has transformed its lobbying force from a humble two-man shop to a $2.5 million operation that employs some of K Street's heaviest hitters.