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Walmart Casts a Shadow on Civil Rights Group’s Convention




A public moment at OCA convention. (Rui Barros Photography)

Not only does Walmart set the wholesale market price for many of the products and food commodities sold in its stores, it also apparently commands the unswerving political loyalty of some of the nonprofit groups that the retail giant underwrites. The Nation’s Lee Fang writes about how a trio of interns ran afoul of OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates (formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans), a prominent Asian American civil rights group, for displaying disrespect to Walmart — a large OCA funder. The story played out in Las Vegas last month during OCA’s annual convention, when one intern was rebuked by OCA staff for criticizing Walmart’s drive to open a grocery market in Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown. She and two colleagues were later booted out of the convention when a private video they’d made of flipping off Walmart made its way onto a public Facebook page.

The list of OCA corporate sponsors looks as though it had been peeled off a NASCAR driver’s flame suit, and also includes Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, McDonald’s and Waste Management Inc. If this list seems like a casting call for bad corporate actors, Fang suggests that their membership in OCA’s Business Advisory Council has its privileges:

A former Walmart executive in charge of the Walmart Foundation’s donation strategy once described the company’s philanthropy and reputational management efforts as “a lever” to make “it easier for us to site stores” and to make “it easier for us to stay out of the public limelight when we don’t want to be there.”

Fang enumerates the ways corporate sponsorship has reaped benefits for the sponsors:

  • Philip Morris used sponsorship of OCA to forge ties with the Asian Pacific community and listed OCA among “allies” to be tapped in an effort to defeat a Washington State measure to increase tobacco taxes.
  • OCA helped Southwest Airlines by filing a request with the Department of Transportation to support Southwest’s bid to open a new route between Houston Hobby Airport and Reagan National.
  • OCA sent a letter to the FCC opposing net neutrality rules, claiming that “regulating the flexibility of business practices” would harm Asian-American entrepreneurs. The largest industry opponents of the regulation included OCA sponsors Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

The expulsion of the three OCA interns in Las Vegas did not stay in Vegas. Fang notes that this incident “may shine light on the ways in which established civil rights organizations have fallen under [the] influence of business interests. Large corporations—including McDonald’s, Sodexo, Wells Fargo and Walmart—forged close ties to leading civil rights groups with hefty donations . . . OCA has championed progressive causes, like immigration reform, but the record shows that the organization appears to also peddle narrow corporate campaigns that reflect the political interests of their sponsor companies.”

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