Walmart heirs under fire over 'phony' charity

Activists accuse retail family of giving only 0.04 per cent of vast wealth to Walton Family Foundation
  • @timwalker

They are the richest family in the US, with a combined wealth greater than that of the entire bottom 40 per cent of Americans. Yet a new report has found that the Waltons – heirs to the Walmart megastore fortune – have donated a vanishing proportion of their riches to charity.

The report by the activist group Walmart 1 Per Cent, entitled The Phony Philanthropy of the Walmart Heirs, found that the company's four heirs have given only 0.04 per cent of their $140bn (£83bn) fortune to the Walton Family Foundation.

The report compares the Waltons' donations to those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who have given away 36.2 and 26.9 per cent of their fortunes respectively, and cites data suggesting that the average US middle-class earner with a salary of between $50,000 and $99,000 contributes 6 per cent of their discretionary income to charity.

One sibling, Jim Walton, made a single contribution of $3m to the foundation more than 15 years ago, while his brother and sister, Rob and Alice, have contributed nothing in the 23 years analysed in the report. Their sister-in-law Christy, the widow of the late John Walton, has given the bulk of the second generation heirs' contributions to the foundation, which come to a total of $58.49m. The report claims this is less than a week's worth of the Walmart dividends that the family can expect to receive this year.

Their father, Sam Walton, who founded Walmart, wrote that he felt "strongly" that Walmart "really is not, and should not be, in the charity business". Yet he, his wife and his late son John gave $5bn between them to establish the foundation, which is thought to funnel around $1bn a year to charitable causes. The report's authors said they found no evidence of significant contributions by the Waltons to other charities.

A Walton family spokesperson said: "Since 1987, the Walton family has contributed more than $5bn to charitable organisations and causes. Family members living and deceased have provided generously for the foundation. The family has planned for the continued growth of the foundation and intends for grant making to progressively increase over time."

Last month, Portland became the first major US city to remove Walmart from its investment portfolio. The city council agreed that Walmart "exerts considerable downward pressure on wages", while "[focusing] on fast, low-cost production at the expense of basic safety measures for employees".