Wal-Mart is facing new pressure from its shareholders: it's being asked to monitor whether its low-cost, international suppliers are treating workers fairly, and whether they are sourcing supplies sustainably. Those are tall orders. And Wal-Mart is so large in the U.S. market, that everything it does has far-reaching implications.
This could work to the benefit of the U.S. wood manufacturers, large and small, if it creates added pressure for Wal-Mart to source domestically. A look at Wal-Mart's website shows that Sauder Woodworking is a major wood furnishings supplier to Wal-Mart. And both Sauder and Wal-Mart source wood products from around the world.
Wal-Mart, which postures as a green company, also burdens its retail goods with a heavy carbon footprint by transporting them from around the globe. That diminishes its standing as "green," as is the case for Asian wood factories that buy U.S. timber or lumber and ship it back as finished products. The expenditure of energy for shipping in two directions negates much of wood's claims as a carbon sequestering resource. So locally grown and made wood products are preferable.
Shareholders have asked Wal-Mart to document that its suppliers treat workers fairly. Martha Stewart, who markets cabinetry under her brand, personally visited the U.S. MasterBrands factories that produce her lines of wood cabinets, to see how they are made, and whether workers were happy. Wal-Mart said it couldn't enforce such provisions on its suppliers, and asked the SEC to remove the proposal for a shareholder vote. The SEC denied the request.
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