(CNSNews.com) - A union-backed group is targeting Southerners and conservative Republicans through a new television advertisement accusing the nation's largest retail chain of abandoning American values in favor of its "cozy business relationship with China."
However, Wal-Mart officials -- meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., on Friday for the corporation's annual shareholders' meeting -- dismissed the effort as a "publicity stunt" that overlooks the retail giant's status as a global company.
"All Americans care about values more than just value, and Republicans and Southern conservatives are no different," said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, in a statement announcing the group's "Summer Southern Blitz" campaign to air 30-second ads in 30 markets at a cost of about $1 million.
"The fact that Wal-Mart values its business with China more than American jobs and national security will be especially disturbing to Wal-Mart's core customers who believe companies should reflect their moral values and put America first," he stated.
Blank, whose organization is financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, also pointed to a statement issued in 1985 by Sam Walton in which the Wal-Mart founder criticized the loss of U.S. jobs to imports and pledged to buy America-made products whenever possible to protect domestic manufacturing jobs.
"We can restore our manufacturing capacity, improve our national economy and renew our pride in American craftsmanship," Walton wrote while urging manufacturers to work with retailers to bring as many competitive American products to the shelves as possible.
That statement -- and last year's record U.S. trade deficit of $233 billion with China -- feature prominently in the group's first ad, which is entitled "It's Just Not American."
The advertisement begins with an image of Sam Walton and an American flag waving in the background. A voiceover states that "Sam Walton's Wal-Mart was an American company. But something has changed."
The narrator continues: "Today, Wal-Mart is the number one importer of Chinese goods. Wal-Mart drives American companies to shut down plants and move manufacturing to China.
"And every day, as our trade deficit grows and good-paying middle-class American jobs are shipped overseas, Wal-Mart and China get stronger ... America gets weaker," the ad says.
"Wal-Mart; it's just not American anymore. Go to WakeUpWalMart.com and tell Wal-Mart it's time to be American again," the narrator concludes.
"We believe that just like all Americans, Wal-Mart's core customers will become enraged when they learn how much Wal-Mart has changed for the worse since the days of Sam Walton," who died in 1992, added Chris Kofinis, communications director for WakeUpWalMart.com.
However, spokesmen for the company -- who were among the 15,000 people attending Wal-Mart's 37th annual shareholders' meeting on Friday -- told Cybercast News Service that the corporation's critics were "spending hard-earned union member dues on a publicity stunt."
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said the retail chain "is still committed to buying from suppliers that manufacture in the United States whenever possible. However, today we're a global company, and it's necessary to source globally to ensure that we meet the needs and wants of our customers."
Over the past few years, the retail chain has bought approximately $9 billion in products from China directly and another $9 billion indirectly, or goods produced in China for another company and then sold to the corporation, Wal-Mart International spokeswoman Beth Keck said.
In addition, Keck stated that exports of U.S. goods have also increased to fill Wal-Mart shelves in the 13 countries where it has stores. That includes beef from Kansas sold in Japan and American dairy products sold in Mexico.
Regarding the retail giant's critics, "they know that Wal-Mart creates thousands of jobs, offers competitive wages to our 1.3 million associates, reduces health-care costs through $4 generic medicines and in-store health clinics, and provides leadership on environmental sustainability," Tovar said.
Also during Friday's meeting, Wal-Mart officials announced that the company had increased its annual dividend 31 percent during the past year and anticipated the addition of up to 200 new "supercenters" over the next 12 months.
"We are committed to improving return on investment while continuing to grow in the United States," said Lee Scott, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., who also outlined plans to improve store productivity, reduce capital expenses and repurchase $15 billion in company shares.
"In addition to the share repurchase program, Wal-Mart is returning more than $3.6 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends this year," Scott stated. "Wal-Mart has increased its dividend every year since its first declared dividend of five cents per share in March 1974."
Blank of WakeUpWalMart.com responded in a news release that "Wal-Mart and Lee Scott are living in a dangerous state of denial" because "the past year has been a total disaster" for the retail chain.
"Not only did the company have its worst annual same store sales growth in 27 years, but Wal-Mart failed to execute almost all of its stated objectives for the year, including being denied a bank in the face of unprecedented opposition," he stated.
Nevertheless, Wal-Mart stock jumped almost 4 percent after reports from the shareholders' meeting reached the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
"This company is rock solid," Scott added late in the day. "It doesn't require a great genius to do all that we want to do."
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