* Board approves $15 billion buyback plan
* Shareholder proposals defeated
* Small group of workers complains about wages, other issues
* Appearances by Jennifer Hudson, Tom Cruise, others
* Shares up 1.2 pct
(Adds executive comments, stock activity, details from meeting)
By Jessica Wohl
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., June 7 Wal-Mart Stores Inc's
board approved a $15 billion stock repurchase plan, its
first in two years, the world's largest retailer announced at
its annual meeting on Friday.
The event at the Bud Walton arena in Fayetteville,
Arkansas, is traditionally more of a pep rally for thousands of
employees than a typical annual meeting. Shareholders attend,
including members of the Walton family, who collectively own
just over half of Wal-Mart's shares. But the largest and loudest
contingent is 14,000 workers from around the world, including
store workers and truck drivers.
Wal-Mart continues to face pressure from some shareholders
over issues including the alleged bribery of officials in Mexico
and a supposed cover-up reported by the New York Times in 2012,
as well as factory safety after industry building catastrophes
in Bangladesh. Executives emphasized integrity
in their speeches on Friday, echoing comments made at last
"You operate with integrity, our company was founded on
integrity," Chief Executive Mike Duke told the crowd. "For
Wal-Mart, compliance is an absolute. Make no mistake about it,
we will do the right thing."
This year there were protests by OUR Walmart, a union-backed
group that hopes to gain the attention of the Walton family and
other shareholders. OUR Walmart wants Wal-Mart to publicly
commit to providing full-time work with a minimum wage of
$25,000 a year.
Despite the protests, Wal-Mart has continued to increase
sales and profit, and its shares have risen.
Still, a 15.4 percent gain in Wal-Mart shares since last
year's annual meeting was smaller than a 24.1 percent gain in
the Dow Jones Industrial Average, of which Wal-Mart is a
As of Thursday, Wal-Mart had about $712 million remaining
under a $15 billion share repurchase program announced in June
Shares of Wal-Mart were up 1.2 percent at $76.55 on Friday
afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.
Thousands of associates, as Wal-Mart calls its workers, were
picked by their peers and managers to attend Friday's meeting
and other events throughout the week, including concerts
featuring Elton John and country signer Luke Bryan. Friday's
meeting was hosted by actor Hugh Jackman and featured performers
including John Legend, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. Actor
Tom Cruise was also on hand, to praise the company's efforts in
areas such as the environment and women's empowerment.
Some 100 OUR Walmart members who work for Wal-Mart came to
Arkansas to protest what they say are Wal-Mart's illegal
attempts to silence critics who want to see changes.
Wal-Mart employs about 2.2 million people, including 1.4
million in the United States, where it is the largest private
employer. It says that its national average wage for full-time
hourly workers is $12.67 an hour and has not released other
figures. The majority of its hourly associates are full-time
Wages vary in the retail industry, depending on tenure, the
type of work done and other factors. According to data from the
National Retail Federation, retail wages averaged $13.24 an hour
in 2010. At that rate, an employee working 40 hours a week every
week would earn $27,539.20 annually.
OUR Walmart, part of the United Food and Commercial Workers
International Union, cites IBISWorld data from several years
back that showed Wal-Mart associates, on average, earn $8.81 an
hour. Its members also complain that they are not scheduled for
enough hours, sometimes getting as few as 19 or 22 hours per
week. Some Wal-Mart workers use taxpayer-funded programs to
support their families.
Members of the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton rank
among the richest people in the world. They collectively own
roughly 1.67 billion shares of Wal-Mart, or 50.76 percent of the
company's outstanding stock.
OUR Walmart does not define itself as a union, although its
members do pay $5 monthly dues.
Kalpona Akter, a former garment worker from Bangladesh who
presented a defeated shareholder proposal at the company's 2011
annual meeting, joined the OUR Walmart workers to push the
company for changes throughout the week. She presented a
proposal at Friday's meeting seeking power for owners of 10
percent of outstanding shares to call special meetings. That
proposal and three other shareholder proposals were all
"We have a supply chain out of control, and a failed safety
inspection system, in a country (Bangladesh) where apparel
workers are dying by the hundreds. Could there be any more
pressing case for a special meeting of shareholders?"
The New York City Pension Funds said it would vote its more
than 5.1 million shares against nine of Wal-Mart's 14 board
nominees - including Chairman Rob Walton and CEO Duke.
It is concerned about what it says has been the board's poor
oversight of compliance as well as a lack of overall
independence. Last year, the New York City funds opposed the
election of five directors.
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis)