Situation vacant: World's most reviled retailer seeks ethics guru

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Wal-Mart is attempting to repair its battered public image by appointing a point man to run its global ethics office.

Lee Scott, the chief executive, is fighting criticism that the supermarket giant bullies its workers and suppliers. Last year he embarked on a campaign to overhaul the perception that Wal-Mart is the world's most controversial, as well as biggest, company, unveiling a new vision of a caring company last October.

It will be the first time the retailer has employed someone solely responsible for ethical issues, although it set up the global ethics office in 2004. The new director of global ethics will be charged with upholding the retailer's code of conduct, which covers all walks of company life. The code is applicable in all 15 countries in which Wal-Mart operates, which includes the UK where it owns Asda.

According to the job description, the successful candidate will lead Wal-Mart's global-ethics strategy and oversee ethics-related infrastructure, administration and training. The company is looking for someone who is "able and willing to take a difficult or unpopular position if necessary", a person who has an "impeccable reputation for integrity and judgement" and who is politically savvy, according to the requisite attributes listed under personal qualifications.

A spokeswoman for the company said the ethics post, which was previously held by someone also had other duties, had recently been restructured.

The creation of the new position comes as criticism about Wal-Mart's working practices is escalating. Labour unions attack the low wages and poor healthcare provision offered by the retailer. Mr Scott was recently quoted telling an employee he should quit rather than complain about the company's miserly terms and conditions. The store manager had criticised the lack of medical retirement benefits.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is facing a lawsuit in California alleging sex discrimination against its female employees, and last year it had to cough up £11m to the US justice department for allowing subcontractors to use undocumented immigrant labour. In the UK, Wal-Mart has waded into a storm over a plan to sack employees if they refused to give up union rights. The GMB union has taken legal action against Asda over the issue.

It is unclear how much success Wal-Mart is having in persuading cynics it has turned over a new leaf. Observers said it would be interesting to see how quickly the group manages to find its new global ethics director. It still lacks a senior director of stakeholder management, a post that has lain vacant for the past 12 months.

Recent revelations that its former vice-chairman, Tom Coughlin, had been pocketing company money and goods for years for his personal benefit have not helped the group's cause.

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