Union group says retailer not LGBT-friendly; chamber president says move promotes supplier diversity
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce drew a mixed reaction this week with the announcement that the LGBT business organization is entering into a new partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The move is part of Wal-Mart’s “ongoing commitment to advancing diversity among all of its associates, suppliers and customer bases,” according to a written statement released Monday by the chamber.
The statement said the new partnership will include executive representation from Wal-Mart on the chamber’s Corporate Advisory Council and sponsorship of the chamber’s 2006 events and initiatives.
Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the chamber, said the new partnership “will not only provide more opportunities for [the chamber], but for the business community as a whole.”
Leo Cusimano, president of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, said the new partnership is “an important step for the huge retail giant to address the needs of its GLBT employees as well as taking the steps to help promote corporate diversity business development.”
“This will help greatly with the national Supplier Diversity Initiative, getting GLBT businesses connected to major corporations,” Cusimano said.
Nelson said that the LGBT Supplier Diversity Initiative is one of the chamber’s major programs, designed to connect certified LGBT businesses with major corporations to gain produce and services contracts.
But Jeremy Bishop, program director for the AFL-CIO GLBT constituency group Pride at Work, criticized the chamber for partnering with Wal-Mart.
“[The chamber's] mission statement says it is committed “‘to forming a broad-based coalition of LGBT owned and LGBT-friendly businesses. We’re not exactly sure how Wal-Mart fits into the LGBT-friendly business category. In fact, we’re not sure how Wal-Mart fits into anything worker friendly,” Bishop told PageOneQ in a telephone interview on Monday.
Wal-Mart has in recent weeks come under fire by labor unions and other groups demanding that the retail chain increase its employee wages and health benefits packages.
Nelson, however, said Pride at Work was approaching the situation from a “one-issue point of view.”
“Pride at Work is focused on one issue, and that issue is unionization. And unionization is not my issue. That’s a debate between the unions and Wal-Mart,” Bishop said.
“My part in all of this is to make sure that LGBT businesses have a chance to become part of the largest supply chain in the world, and this partnership is part of that process,” Nelson added.
Nelson said the retail chain is “taking the steps to become an employer of choice for LGBT people and a valued partner with the LGBT community. What this partnership does is help them along the way, and we would be doing the LGBT community a disservice if we did not take the opportunity to educate Wal-Mart and their customers about the importance of utilizing suppliers and respecting all of their employees and customers.”
Nelson also said that Wal-Mart approached the chamber with the idea of the partnership.
“They understood what is going on in corporate America in terms of utilizing LGBT suppliers in diverse supply chains. Just marketing to the LGBT community is no longer enough. Just having a nondiscrimination policy that includes gays and lesbians is no longer enough,” he said.
“To be a good corporate citizen, their supply chain needs to look like the customer base they are trying to attract. Wal-Mart heard that. They understood that and so they came to us to work out a partnership in terms of getting LGBT-owned businesses into that supply chain,” Nelson said.
Under the new partnership, Dee Breazeale, vice president of divisional merchandise for Sam’s Club Jewelry, will serve on the chamber’s Corporate Advisory Council.
The council, comprised of the chamber’s corporate partners, is designed to discuss issues that chamber and council members can work on together to educate corporate America and the public on the benefit of providing a diverse workplace and creating mutually beneficial relations with the LGBT business community, chamber officials said.
Wal-Mart will also assist the chamber in developing, expanding and promoting corporate diversity business development and procurement opportunities by sponsoring some of its programs, including the chamber’s two conferences, according to the chamber’s written statement.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.