The Rev. Rhett Baird, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fayetteville, AK, spoke in June on behalf of the New York City Comptroller and the New York City pension systems, representing over 10,000,000 shares. He has graciously offered these reflections on "Power in the Process" describing this type of social action as a UU ministry.
REFLECTIONS: POWER IN THE PROCESS
Remarks by Rev. Rhett D. Baird, Minister
UU Fellowship of Fayetteville, AR
prepared September 8, 2002, at the request of the Unitarian Universalist Association
I was honored to have been asked to represent the New York City Comptroller and the New York City Pension Funds at the annual shareholders meeting of Wal-Mart in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on June 7, 2002. The pension fund owns 10,822,516 shares.
I was especially proud to be associated with the specific resolution, known as the "Global Human Rights Standards" resolution. It is my understanding that the resolution attracted sufficient votes (almost 4% in favor, 3% abstaining and 93% against) enabling the resolution to return next year as an item of business on the shareholder meeting agenda in June 2003, if it is the wish of the sponsor. It is certainly my hope that it will be introduced next year and I will be happy to again introduce the resolution if I am asked.
This was an extraordinary opportunity for a Unitarian Universalist social justice public witness and I was grateful for the opportunity:
- to have been there
- to have witnessed a major portion of the shareholder’s meeting of the largest corporation in the world
- to have spoken words of my faith identity and values embodied in the resolution consistent with my own and certainly with many Unitarian Universalists in this country and throughout the world
- to have the 20,000 or more shareholders hear the speaking of the name of my congregation and my faith tradition and human values important to us.
I will report that I was courteously received at the meeting site by representatives of the legal department of Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, just north of Fayetteville. I was treated honorably and, I believe, taken seriously. But, of course, one would expect such treatment if one is representing over 10,000,000 shares.
The meeting was held on the campus of the University of Arkansas in the basketball arena, one of the few places in Northwest Arkansas with a seating capacity sufficient to accommodate the shareholders. It was a packed crowd that day. Events began at 7 a.m. prior to the beginning of the official stockholder’s meeting. Included in the early morning happenings was a parade-like event, with employee representatives from Wal-Mart stores all over the world entering the arena with their country’s flag and music rooted in that tradition or culture or country.
No matter who you were and what your agenda was that morning, the experience described above was akin, for me, to a convocation of a mini-United Nations. A little less dignified perhaps and a little more upbeat, almost to the point of cheers. But certainly, on balance, a deeply moving experience. A visual experience that, for me, was deeply symbolic of hope...of hope that, maybe, just maybe, the diverse cultures that make up our blue globe hanging in space may find new and healthy ways to work together, to honor our differences and our commonalties, and to care for our earth together.
When my turn came to be on the agenda, I was welcomed and introduced by the Chairman of the Board. I read a prepared statement within the guidelines of the three minute time limit. A difficult task for a preacher, to be sure. When I concluded, the General Counsel for Wal-Mart responded to me on behalf of the Board of Directors. It felt like a personal conversation with 25,000 people listening in and watching our gigantic images on these massive screens used during the meeting which enabled the presenters to be seen by all in attendance. At the conclusion of his remarks, he said that the board recommends that the shareholders vote against the resolution.
Regardless of the outcome, the subject was taken seriously. The subject was on the table. The subject will return. It will invite people to think. To define their own values more clearly. To better inform themselves. To act on their own values. To participate in shaping the corporate values of Wal-Mart and the policies that impact and influence lives the world over.
In addition to reviewing the resolution that was introduced and the remarks made by me on that occasion, readers of this web-page may find it informative to review the ten page report on this webpage entitled Social Issues Service 2002 Company Report - A Wal-Mart Global Labor Standards by Peter DeSimone, dated May 10, 2002, bearing a copyright by Investor Responsibility Research Center. This was provided to me an informational item by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. I found it to be a valuable educative tool for myself in understanding of the complex issues involved.
Although I never met Sam Walton, I have been aware for many years that he and I were fraternity brothers, in Beta Theta Pi, Sam at Missouri and I at Emory University in Atlanta. It is, indeed, a small world, and I could not close this piece without noting that connection and honoring the founder of Wal-Mart.
Rev. Rhett D. Baird, rbaird [at] uark [dot] edu
Study: (479) 521-8446