Wal-Mart Fights Hunger, Legal Battles

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Giant chain stores love their charities. Wal-Mart pledged yesterday to donate $2 billion in efforts to end hunger in America. 

During its five year initiative called Fighting Hunger Together, the retail giant will provide more than 1.1. billion pounds of food to local food banks.  It will also donate $250 million in grants to national, state and local hunger-relief organizations. 

Wal-Mart has already announced plans to donate $6 million to buy refrigerated trucks to service Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.  Also, $2 million will go to the National Recreation and Park Association’s summer feeding program. 

“Increasingly, we see opportunities to use our scale and reach to solve challenges in our communities,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman said in a press release. “By working together, we believe we can reach a day where no individual in this country has to go to bed hungry or worry if there will be food to put on the table tomorrow.”

This news, though quite commendable, is being shadowed by Wal-Mart’s current legal woes.

Just yesterday, the retail giant settled a class-action lawsuit by agreeing to pay former workers in California as much as $86 million.  Over 232,000 people were suing the chain over vacation, overtime and other back wages.  In December, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $40 million to Massachusetts workers who had made similar wage allegations. 

But beyond these settlements, Wal-Mart is currently facing a landmark class-action suit claiming widespread sexual discrimination against women.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2001, claims that Wal-Mart paid female employees less than their male counterparts and also gave them fewer promotions. A federal appeals court certified the class-action status in April, making it the largest class-action lawsuit in American history (more than 1 million women from more than 3,000 stores are involved).  Wal-Mart faces paying billions of dollars in punitive damages should they lose. 

Incidentally Wal-Mart, accustomed to lawsuits, is also familiar with charitable giving.  Its hunger incentives actually started in 2005, when the chain distributed 9.9 million pounds of food to food banks. Since then, the Wal-Mart Foundation has given more than $512 million in cash and in gifts, $467 million of which was donated in the U.S. 

Do Wal-Mart’s charity initiatives in any way negate their legal troubles? Tell us in the comments section.

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