Wal-Mart is Afraid of Nuns

Wal-Mart’s threat assessment scandal just won’t go away. To recap: Wal-Mart fired a member of its Threat Research and Analysis Group, which among other things uses military-grade technology to relentlessly monitor employee communications of all sorts and vendor use of its network, and also investigates parties that propose shareholder resolutions, like the New York City Comptroller’s office.

Those probes have led many of the targets to demand copies of the dossiers developed on them. Wal-Mart claims that its research was justified and never rose to the level of a “threat assessment,” adding that, “Any information gathered about proponents of shareholder proposals would come from internet searches and from other publicly available sources of background information.” Many of the shareholder groups were not satisfied with Wal-Mart’s apologies and explanations (I for one find the use of the word “would” in the quote above telling). The New York City Comptroller has asked the SEC and the US Attorney General to investigate Wal-Mart’s conduct.

One of the groups on Wal-Mart’s enemies list was some Benedictine nuns:

A community of Benedictine nuns based in Texas has called on Wal-Mart to give further details of how they came to appear on a list of potential threats to the world’s largest retailer.

The Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, Texas, have written to Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, to say they were “deeply disappointed, appalled and shocked” by news that Wal-Mart’s security department had been asked in a memo to do some initial “threat assessment” work on their group. The nuns had co-filed a critical shareholder resolution for the company’s forthcoming annual meeting.

The letter asks Wal-Mart to give the nuns access to “electronic data, tape and video recordings, memorandum, correspondence and communications of any type or nature whatsoever” that make references to them.

“What has been inadvertently revealed so far may just be the tip of the iceberg,” the letter said, noting that the group had been involved in dialogue with Wal-Mart along with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility since the 1990s. The January memo became public earlier this month, in interviews given to the Wall Street Journal by Bruce Gabbard, a former employee of Wal-Mart’s security department….

Wal-Mart has written to shareholder groups saying that no action was taken in connection with the January memo, “given the nature of the matters proposed and our familiarity with the individual proponents”.

If I were the nuns, I wouldn’t find that response very reassuring. The company claims it didn’t investigate based on the January memo because it already knew about the named parties. That could very well be by virtue of having conducted a threat assessment in the past.

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