ASDA Wal-Mart: Influence / Lobbying
In 2002 Asda supplied £2 million in sponsorship to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. This coincided with the building of a new Asda WalMart supercentre on the site next to the stadium.
Links with government: Archie Norman
Asda has strong links to the Conservative Party through former CEO Archie Norman, who subsequently became a Tory MP and was a close adviser to William Hague. As Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, he was dubbed ‘the Greenbelt Destroyer’ after an Observer investigation linked him to a controversial deal with a local authority, destruction of the greenbelt, and a breach of parliamentary rules.
While Norman chaired Asda in the mid-nineties, the supermarket offered hundreds of thousands of pounds to Manchester City Council for a piece of land in an effort to prevent rival Kwik Save building a store there. According to evidence given to the Commons environment select committee, Asda set up a meeting with then council leader Graham Stringer - now a minister in the Cabinet Office - and offered the authority money for the land 'because they did not want the extra competition'.
Norman has also worked at Citibank, McKinsey & Co, Kingfisher, British Rail, Railtrack and Geest.
In March 1999, company executives paid a 'courtesy call' to Tony Blair. According to journalist George Monbiot: 'We don't know what they discussed, for Number 10, in keeping with its commitment to open government, won't tell us. But you'd win no prizes for guessing that one of the topics was planning.'
See also the Friends of the Earth report 'Exposed: Big Business in Bournemouth' for information about companies including Asda lobbying at the Labour Party conference in 2003. A significant proportion of the party's income comes from charging companies to come to events such as the annual conference, paying for stall space and sponsoring events.
According to Ethical Consumer magazine, Wal-Mart donated $630,000 to George Bush's 2000 election campaign, coming 24th in a list of the top 30 donors.5 The company also gave a small amount of money to the Democrats – out of $694,947, 89% went to the Republicans and 11% to the Democrats.
In 2004 Wal-Mart donated $2.4 million to the Republican campaign on a state (California) and national level, including large donations to Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign. It also pledged to donate $500 000 to a campaign opposing Proposition 72, a measure that will require employers to provide their workers with basic health insurance. The long-suffering company claims to be facing 'mounting attacks' from critics such as labor unions.
Before Wal-Mart tried to move supercenters into New England, it hired a PR firm - McKay Public Relations - to implement a public relations campaign to communicate Wal-Mart's supposed positive impact.
Asda uses a PR company called Communique. It is also listed as a client of the International Public Relations Network.
Corporations are increasingly using the term 'Corporate Social Responsibility' (CSR) to deal with concerns that they are bad for communities and the environment. The idea is that corporations consider the interests of society and the environment when making decisions. However, business being business, CSR inevitably comes with the unspoken assumption that making profits is more important than anything else, and social and environmental concerns are secondary: given two ways to make money, they choose the one that requires the least murder, blatant theft or environmental destruction, then pat themselves on the back for being so responsible. Until the needs of ecosystems and the living things that constitute them are considered to be more important than the need of a corporation to generate profits, CSR will continue to be meaningless.
Along with other supermarkets, Asda is a member of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which, in its own words, 'exists to speak for the retail industry...[and] develop a range of ways for the industry to improve its performance.' The group also lobbies the European government and has an office in Brussels. Asda is on the European Steering Group.
In collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the BRC in 2002 set up a Retail Strategy Group, of which Tony Denunzio is the chair. The stated aim of the group is for:
'the retail industry and the UK government to work in partnership to identify key issues that impact on the competitiveness and productivity of the UK retail sector, and together, to take action to maximise opportunities for, and minimise threats to, UK retailers.'
Asda is a member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), 'the premier lobbying organisation for UK business on national and international issues. We work with the UK government, international legislators and policy-makers to help UK businesses complete effectively.' The group has offices around the UK as well as in Brussels and Washington.
Asda is also a member of the Institute of Grocery Distributors, 'a research, information and education provider for the food and grocery industry', which claims not to lobby.
In June 1999 ASDA pledged £22,000 to British Nutrition Foundation to fund the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Influencing research and education
Asda closely targets school kids, encouraging them to visit its stores with their teachers as an educational experience. These programmes include ‘the Big Read’ in 1999 which included book donations to libraries and schools and in-store storytelling; ‘the Big Sum’ in 2000 help school kids to calculate their bills correctly. The 2001 project was ‘the Big Eat’, with trails around its stores, undoubtedly helping them to become good Asda consumers as well as improving their vitamin intake – a remarkably similar theme to the 2004 campaign 'The Big Healthy Body'. See Corporate Crimes section for more on Asda's interest in education (ie getting schoolkids to spend time in its stores).
In 2004 Asda restarted an employee training scheme in which employees gain an NVQ. As a Guardian article points out, this is very useful to the government in trying to fulfil its target number of young people in apprenticeships.
1 http://www.manchesteronline.co.uk/news/s/31/31526_asdas_2m_boost_for_2002_games.html 2 http://www.guardian.co.uk/country/article/0,,191465,00.html 3,a href="www.monbiot.com/archives/1999/06/17/economic-cleansing/"> www.monbiot.com/archives/1999/06/17/economic-cleansing/ 4 http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/exposed_bournemouth_2003.pdf 5 Ethical Consumer, June/July 2001 6 http://www.kamcity.com/namnews/asp/newsarticle.asp?newsid=20519, or for a longer article http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=201137&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312 7 http://www.communique-pr.uk.com/company.html 8 http://www.iprn.com/index.php?pageID=8 9 For more information on this see Corporate Watch's 'Corporate law and structures' briefing. 10 http://www.brc.org.uk/defaultnew.asp 11 http://www.dti.gov.uk/retaildoc/exec.pdf. See also http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KZC/is_2002_Nov_7/ai_94771660 12 http://www.cbi.org.uk/ndbs/staticpages.nsf/StaticPages/home.html/?OpenDocument 13 http://www.igd.com/default.asp 14 http://www.nutrition.org.uk/bnf/pressreleases/asda.htm 15 Podesta Group Clients Accessed 21st March 16 American Benefits Council Memberships Accessed 26th February 2008. 17 http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,5500,1149218,00.html