Wal-Mart investors demand action over work practices

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The Independent Online

An influential group of investors has asked Wal-Mart to set up a task force to investigate its repeated regulatory breaches, including employing illegal immigrants and under-age teenagers to operate dangerous machinery.

An influential group of investors has asked Wal-Mart to set up a task force to investigate its repeated regulatory breaches, including employing illegal immigrants and under-age teenagers to operate dangerous machinery.

The $85bn (£47bn) New York City Pension Fund and Illinois's State Board of Investment sent a letter to the world's largest retailer yesterday, calling on it to set up a committee to review its internal controls. The group, which includes the London-based F&C Asset Management, together own $546m of Wal-Mart shares.

In the letter, the investors say they are "deeply concerned" about the "potential contingent liabilities and negative effects on the company's stock price and reputation" from its frequent regulatory breaches.

The group also raised concerns about the dismissal of a former vice-president, Jared Bowen, who was asked to leave the company after he questioned unusual payments made to Thomas Coughlin, his boss who used to be vice-chairman. Mr Coughlin, who denies any wrongdoing, left in March. In recent months, Wal-Mart has had to pay millions of dollars in fines to regulators, and its share price has sunk to a five-year low. It has denied that Mr Bowen was fired for raising questions about Mr Coughlin's practices, which are being investigated by an Arkansas grand jury.

Wal-Mart is likely to face more opposition at its annual meeting tomorrow, being held in its native Arkansas, from shareholders who have a range of gripes. These include concerns about its opaque bonus policy and the lack of independent directors on its board.

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