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  • The Washington Post reported over the weekend that many of Wal-Mart’s recent announcements about environmental and benefits-related initiatives came as the result of a study commissioned by McKinsey & Co. that “found that the public believes the retailer treats its employees poorly and is a negative force in communities where it operates.”

    Mona Williams, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, told the paper, “Like any company, we want to make sure our associates, customers and local communities feel good about us. This research provided a benchmark to help us understand what we are doing well and where we need to improve.”

    The McKinsey study was provided to the Post by an anti-Wal-Mart group, which said it was given the report anonymously.

    The Post writes: “The McKinsey report outlines a long-term approach to ‘managing change.’ In the first three to 12 months, the company was told, it should find ways to convince the public that its wages and benefits are better than perceived, spread messages that it cares for employees, build local relationships, increase local philanthropy, and research the impact of stores on their communities. Next, the study calls on the company to create another initiative that= benefits workers (‘e.g. workplace education, child-care program’). Finally, the study says Wal-Mart should ‘take public leadership on broader societal issue.’”

  • The New York Times writes that despite an increasing level of investment in its Japan affiliate Seiyu, to the point where it now is the majority shareholder, Wal-Mart “looks dangerously close to falling on its smiley face.”

    But now Wal-Mart predicts that this is about to change. “As early as next week,” the NYT writes, “the company is expected to announce an ambitious new plan for Japan that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years. Most of this new spending will go to overhauling half of Seiyu's stores by 2010, company executives predict.”

    Still, it won’t be easy. While Wal-Mart believes it needs to be successful in Japan in order to maintain the growth curve that will satisfy investors, Japan remains a culturally impenetrable market for foreign companies – and it remains to be seen whether Wal-Mart’s cultural imperatives will fit with Japan’s.

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