Public-private co-op aids social change

Michelle Obama’s recent partnering with Wal-Mart in a campaign that aspires to offer more healthful options to shoppers highlights just how much power almighty corporations have in the world. In a worldwide economy where many of the top-50 organizations have larger budgets than some countries, these organizations have a frightening amount of authority of markets and thus, many consumers’ lifestyles. Wal-Mart, which garnered $408.21 billion in sales in 2009, can be categorized as an organization that has almost unlimited power in the grocery market sector. It’s about time that we see this retailing giant conduct a campaign that really attempts to offer corporate responsibility in a form that will see some direct benefits to the markets it serves.

While Wal-Mart’s move to decide to participate with the initiatives that the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign is fairly transparent in its positive public relations implications, it is still an admirable move. Wal-Mart is hoping to convince their suppliers to cut back sodium levels by 25 percent and sugar by 10 percent by the year 2015.

These goals directly align with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign which aims to decrease childhood obesity by educating children at an early age about healthy eating habits and physical activity. The campaign has also pushed for better food options in schools and improved food labeling. It is estimated that about 32 percent of children are considered overweight or obese. Children that grow up overweight or obese have a higher chance of becoming overweight and obese adults, which could lead to a plethora of medical problems associated with obesity.

In addition to working with suppliers to offer healthier food options, Wal-Mart also hopes to help address “food deserts,” a problem that has historically plagued low-income neighborhoods. The organization is well poised to utilize its economies of scale to offer healthier food options to low-income areas at prices that are still competitive with cheap and unhealthy food. The result could lead to better nutrition for children and families that live in areas that don’t traditionally have access to better food options.

The task will still be no small feat, but considering the control that Wal-Mart has over many of its suppliers, it is an attainable goal. Wal-Mart has the potential to be more successful in its endeavors to promote a healthy lifestyle to its shoppers than the U.S. government has in attempts to promote regulations that promote health. We as a society are heavily relying on corporate social responsibility to steer our buying patterns, and, by extension, our health as a society.

It is no secret that Wal-Mart is perceived as less-than-favorable by many that feel the organization utilizes unfair labor practices and the presence of the stores in small communities often drives small town competitors out of business. Indeed, it is somewhat difficult to accept the news of their partnership with the First Lady as something other than a public relations stunt. Although, if more relationships like the one that Wal-Mart and the First Lady recently created existed there could be more situations where change could be realized much sooner through collaborative initiatives. These are the kinds of relationships that should be further explored by the current administration in order to leverage the power that these large corporations possess.

While some might bristle at the idea of the government working in cahoots with large corporations, it makes sense from a perspective that there is a mutual relationship that can be exploited by both sides. Both large corporations and the government can benefit from the positive public relations that can be generated from these kinds of campaigns, corporations can reap benefits from greater sales and the government has accomplished their goal of adding to the welfare of society.

However, the future of these kinds of endeavors with large corporations should not rely solely on initiatives coming out of Washington. Because of the growing influence that the modern business organization has on society, they should strive to introduce initiatives that will also add to their bottom line and contribute to the welfare of society.

These mega-corporations, like Wal-Mart, have potential to create real changes through corporate responsibility initiatives, but if they fail to act on their own accord, other corporations could fail to capitalize on this unique opportunity.

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