Walmart CEO to Arkansas governor: veto ‘religious freedom’ legislation

March 31, 2015, 11:08 PM UTC
Doug McMillon
Wal-Mart President and Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Bentonville, Ark. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is spending $1 billion to change how it pays and trains hourly staff in a move it hopes will help reshape the image that it only offers dead-end jobs. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Photograph by Gareth Patterson — AP

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is asking Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to step up and veto a ‘religious freedom’ law, HB1228, that the state’s lawmakers approved on Tuesday.

A great deal of Walmart’s (WMT) corporate character is shaped by the state of Arkansas. It is where Sam Walton founded the retail giant in 1962, with the first store in the town of Rogers. It is home to the company’s “Home Office,” its U.S. headquarters, in Bentonville, where some 16,000 of of its 2.2 million employees are based.

In a statement posted to the company’s Walmart Newsroom Twitter account, McMillion said that the legislation, “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” Hutchinson has expressed concerns about the law, but has also said that he would sign it if it “reaches my desk” in a similar form to what has been passed in some 20 other states.

It is the same law that is causing trouble for Indiana and its governor Mike Pence, who passed the bill, which is seen as discriminatory, a week ago. Since then, Indiana has seen a public outcry from corporations, celebrities, and athletes.

In speaking out against the law, McMillon joins other prominent executives, such as Salesforce (CRM) CEO Mark Benioff and Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook, who have voiced opposition to the legislation. In the sports world, the NCAA is set to hold the Final Four of its basketball tournament in the state, but NCAA president Mark Emmert has said that the law, “strikes at the core values of what higher education in America is all about.” ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, in his program on Tuesday, went further and suggested the NCAA ought to pull the Final Four from Indiana and relocate it immediately.

“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates,” said the Walmart statement. “We are asking Governor Hutchinson,” it concluded, “to veto this legislation.”

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m.: Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has reacted to concerns quickly, and, today, responded. Hutchinson has asked lawmakers in his state to either amend or completely recall the controversial bill, the Times and others are reporting. Hutchinson expressed concern over the legislation, said that his own son urged him to veto it, and, according to the Times story, added that the bill, “in ordinary times would not be controversial. But these are not ordinary times.”

In another tweet from its Newsroom account, Walmart commended Hutchinson’s action, and encouraged him to, “make certain any legislation does not encourage discrimination.”

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