(CNSNews.com) - Sixty-five religious leaders have joined union activists in asserting that the nation's largest retail chain should "change for the better" this holiday season, a move one union watchdog called a "cynical ploy" intended to "tarnish Wal-Mart's name in time for Christmas."
Leaders of faith representing over 1.3 million Americans have joined a group sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers union in a nationwide initiative to call on America's largest employer and its CEO, Leo Scott, to "change for the better" this holiday season, according to Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com.
As part of this effort, the leaders from a variety of religions signed a joint letter to Scott that stated: "The holiday season is a time to honor and remember the virtues of hope, love, joy, sharing, sacrifice and faith.
"During this holy season, we must ask ourselves - at what moral price do we accept the sins of exploitation and greed? Sins, it is sad to say, which are exemplified by one of America's largest and richest corporations, Wal-Mart."
The letter then accused the company of taking part in such "immoral business practices" as exploiting its workers and suppliers by paying employees poverty-level wages, breaking child labor laws and providing poor health care coverage for workers and their families.
"It is hard to imagine why Wal-Mart would consciously choose to make 1.3 million workers suffer in the name of 'low prices,' a suffering we can no longer let stand," the religious leaders added.
The group then invoked the Christmas season by stating that "Jesus would not embrace Wal-Mart's values of greed and profits at any cost, particularly when children suffer as a result of those misguided values.
"Those of us who are Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist also have scriptures that remind us that God is just and God's servants must practice justice in all of our words and deeds," the letter continued.
"As we prepare to celebrate our own holiday traditions, we also ask ourselves: Is it right to shop at Wal-Mart? Would our God want us to support Wal-Mart's values and actions with our dollars?
"It is within your power to become a truly responsible, ethical and righteous company," the letter concluded. "In the end, there is no better present Wal-Mart could give to its workers, their families and America than to change for the better this holiday season."
In addition, WakeUpWalMart.com is airing a 30-second TV advertisement in six southern states to highlight the corporation's moral failures and raise the question "Should People of Faith Shop at Wal-Mart?" this holiday season.
"It is our sincere hope Wal-Mart will choose the higher road and become a moral example that all people of faith can embrace proudly," Blank said.
The corporation reacted swiftly to the charges.
"Surely, many Americans are deeply offended that union leadership would use religion as just another tactic in the negative attack campaign they're waging against a company that donates more money to good works than any other company in America," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman told Cybercast News Service.
"With all the news reports of manufacturers laying off tens of thousands of skilled union workers, we hoped the union leadership would show more compassion for its members than spending its member dues attacking a company that creates 100,000 jobs a year," Fogleman added.
Regarding the letter, Fogleman said that the religious leaders involved "have unfortunately been misled. We know they clearly seek the truth and are in search of the real facts."
According to Fogleman, those facts include Wal-Mart's "$200 million in charitable giving this year, and we save the average American family $2,300 per household." In addition, he noted that the company is "making positive change with new health care programs where we've signed up more than 70,000 associates and 30,000 of their family members.
"Wal-Mart will continue to do those things we believe are right for our customers, our associates and our communities: helping people put food on their table and clothes on their backs, providing good benefits and career opportunities and being a good citizen in the towns where we serve," he added.
Blank was unimpressed with the company's response.
"Rather than address the genuine moral concerns raised by 65 leaders of faith," Blank said in a press release, the corporation "chose to ignore their concerns, insult them, question their sincerity and cite manufacturing job losses the company has helped to create.
"We can only hope that someday soon, Lee Scott will finally -- finally -- do what is right for his workers, their families and America," Blank added.
However, Joseph de Feo, editor of Foundation Watch and Organization Trends for the Capital Research Center, told Cybercast News Service he considers the WakeUpWalMart.com effort "a cynical ploy" on the part of the United Food and Commercial Workers to "tarnish Wal-Mart's name in time for Christmas in an effort to pressure Wal-Mart into unionization.
"It's hard to say who comes out of it looking worse: the unions who will stop at nothing or the religious figures who seem to think that Jesus would have been a member of Teamsters Local 303," de Feo added.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue told Cybercast News Service that he considered the leaders who signed the letter to Wal-Mart "the enemy of the poor" because "Wal-Mart has provided over a million people with jobs, all of whom have voluntarily accepted these wages and the conditions of employment.
"Wal-Mart employs people of all races, religions and ethnic groups," Donohue added. "I'm not sure that any of the 65 religious leaders has ever created a single job for anyone in their entire lives."
Donohue noted that he'd "had a problem with Wal-Mart last month," when the company received criticism for replacing the word "Christmas" with "holiday" in all its internal and external promotions. "I did call for a boycott because I felt they didn't handle things right with regard to Christians.
"However, I've also credited them publicly for doing the right thing" by issuing an apology for insulting Christians and revising their policies and website. Donohue complimented the company for "making the right decisions and putting that behind them."
Regarding the current situation, Donohue stated that "what this is about is the union-driven, left-wing, all-out front on Wal-Mart, which is being used as the prototypical capitalist corporation."
Donohue was just as outspoken in recommending how people of faith should respond to the WakeUpWalMart.com campaign. "I hope that all Christians patronize Wal-Mart this season and reject out of hand the left-wing agenda, which is basically anti-capitalism using Wal-Mart as a whipping boy this Christmas season," he said.
See Earlier Stories:
Wal-Mart Critics Have Clashing Objectives (Nov. 25, 2005)
Pro-Union Group Tries to Discourage Wal-Mart Customers (Nov. 22, 2005)
Campaign Against Wal-Mart Hasn't Touched Profits (Nov. 15, 2005)
Protesters Target 'Shocking, Secret' Wal-Mart Memo (Oct. 28, 2005)
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