The New York Times, March 9, 2013
The chief burnisher of Wal-Mart Stores’ reputation is leaving the company as its image is under new strains.
Wal-Mart said on Friday that Leslie Dach, a former aide in the Clinton administration who is credited with polishing the company’s image through energy conservation, environmentally friendly packaging and philanthropy, is resigning after almost seven years.
He is leaving as the company deals with international bribery investigations, questions about factory safety among its global suppliers and scattered protests at stores. Mr. Dach said that his decision was not related to the global giant’s recent problems but that he believed he had accomplished many of the goals of making Wal-Mart palatable to a range of groups.
Even critics of Wal-Mart give Mr. Dach some credit. “Wal-Mart became much more adept at constructing a public image that would appeal to liberal audiences after he came on board,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which encourages environmentally conscious development and frequently opposes Wal-Mart’s policies.
Mr. Dach arrived at the company in August 2006 as public opinion soured with criticism of its pay and benefits and claims that its pressure on vendors to cut costs was sending jobs overseas.
According to the YouGov BrandIndex Buzz index, which measures whether people have recently heard positive or negative things about a company, in mid-2007, the earliest data available, Wal-Mart’s score was about a negative 5 on a scale of negative 100 to positive 100, but it rose to the 20s in 2009. After an article in The New York Times last April reported that executives had ignored evidence of bribery in Mexico, it sank to about 7. It recovered before falling again around the holidays, when unions threatened a Black Friday protest and another New York Times article about bribery in Mexico was published. Its score is now around 10, in line with discount retailers as a whole.
On the environmental front, the company has not met all of its goals — Mr. Scott wanted 100 percent of store waste to be diverted from landfills, and 80 percent now is — but it has made progress. While critics say Wal-Mart is, by definition, environmentally unfriendly — as a brand-new big-box store selling disposable goods largely from overseas — others say its size can force real change.
And on other issues, like selling $4 generic prescriptions and healthier food, and donating to hunger prevention and veterans and women’s causes, it has gained allies, including Michelle Obama and the World Wildlife Fund.
Labor groups continue to criticize Wal-Mart for unfair wages and poor labor practices overseas, among other issues. The Mexico inquiry continues to loom over the company, and Wal-Mart was shown to be using suppliers in a Bangladesh factory where a fire killed more than 100 workers in November.