EDITORIAL: Surprise! Wal-Mart steps up

York Dispatch

Love it or hate it, Wal-Mart is a global powerhouse. As such, the behemoth retailer has a social responsibility to its workers and its local and global communities.

We think Wal-Mart has further to go, particularly in the realm of global sustainability, women's empowerment and food and nutrition initiatives. However, some recent broad-minded actions by the company gave us hope this is the beginning of an important turnaround.

Wal-Mart has 160 stores and seven distribution centers in Pennsylvania (including Sam's Clubs), and has more than 47,000 Pennsylvania workers on its payroll. The average wage for full-time Pennsylvania workers: $12.94 per hour.

The company, which established the Wal-Mart Foundation to address its dismal social responsibility reputation, this week decided to eliminate all items depicting the Confederate flag.

The move came in the wake of a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where the shooter touted a racist manifesto and had been pictured with the Confederate flag.

Many other retailers, including, also have made the decision to eliminate items depicting the Confederate flag.

"We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer," Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said in a statement. "We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our website."

This isn't the first time the company surprised us.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced it would raise the wages of millions of its employees to well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Additionally, this past March, the chain publicly decried its home state of Arkansas' religious freedom law, which is widely recognized as discriminating against the LGBT community.

But make no mistake, Wal-Mart has seen a shift in Americans' views on these social issues of equality and it has not been a leader in this arena.

It has been a follower. And at times, it has seemed, a reluctant one.

Until it saw its profits start to slide.

It's no coincidence that the Wal-Mart Foundation was established to deal with humanitarian issues that cause consumers to choose one business over another to reflect their own sense of social responsibility.

Businesses, take heed: You have every right to exercise your freedoms when it comes to whom you serve and how you serve them.

And take it from Wal-Mart: Being socially responsible and tolerant makes good business sense. And for those who haven't woken up yet, it's just the right thing to do.