Wal-Mart Aims to Boost Women-Run Businesses

Retail giant will spend $20 billion over 5 years on goods made by women.

Sept. 14, 2011— -- Wal-mart, fresh from winning dismissal of a class-action bias suit filed on behalf of its female employees, said Wednesay it will launch initiatives to help businesses owned by women around the world.

Over the next five years, the world's largest retailer said it will buy $20 billion in goods and services from female-run businesses in the U.S. alone. The company said it also has plans to double the amount of money it pays women-owned suppliers overseas.

It's offering educational services as well. The retail chain plans to train 60,000 women working in factories that supply products to Wal-Mart and other buyers. It also plans to teach life skills, like financial literacy and punctuality, to 200,000 overseas and another 200,000 low-income women here in the U.S.

The company will work with its suppliers that have more than $1 billion in sales to increase their representation of women and minority groups by 2016.

"We know this is important for our customers, and it will make for a stronger business," Leslie Dach, executive president of Wal-Mart told the Associated Press. He said that the initiatives could reach more than 1 million people.

The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., has increasingly focused on women. In 2009, Wal-mart set up a women's council made of 20 female company leaders worldwide who could offer advice about training, development and promotions.

In 2004, a sex-bias lawsuit was given class-action status on behalf of 1.6 million women employees, but in June 2011, the Supreme Court blocked the suit after saying there was no evidence of corporate policies that would lead to companywide pay disparities or discrimination at Wal-Mart.

But the retailer is trying to get to its core customers. Most of the 200 million customers who shop there every week around the world are women, and they control $20 trillion annually in consumer spending.

Since the company made $418 billion just last year and operated in more than 80 countries, Wal-Mart's initiatives could make a huge difference.

"This is a game changer," said Helen Gayle, president and CEO of Care USA. "This is a large initiative. If Wal-Mart begins to change the way it does its practices, it can have a huge impact on other corporations and other retailers."