This Teaching Note is for: Level: Undergraduate Courses: Business and Society, Business Ethics, Communications, Organizational Behavior Class size: 20-40 Class format: This unit covers three 90-minute classes Purposes: • To examine social impact management in multiple domains: labor, health care, supplier and competitor relations, and environment • To debate arguments that critique and defend large corporate players that affect wage and product prices • To use the internet for research • To practice oral communication skills Introduction: Students relate well to the Wal-Mart case, most have shopped there, many have read about it in the business and popular press, some have worked there. Because they know the basics about the company, it is possible to engage multiple issues at once, which are often treated singularly, week-by-week in a class: labor, health care, supplier and competitor relations, and environment. Teaching Plan: A detailed description of the pace and assignments for this unit appears in Appendix A. Divide the class into four groups for the four issues or themes. Each group will further sub-divide into those presenting critiques of Wal-Mart and those defending the responses (imagined or actually given) by Wal-Mart. For example, in a class of 40, four groups of 10 enact a debate between two sub-groups of 5 each. Because this module on CasePlace.org is similarly divided by these four themes, students can easily start there for their research. Encourage students to use the internet for this topic, because the stakeholders are very active in this domain and new issues and arguments arise. In addition to CasePlace.org, they can search for other articles.
Prepared by Prof. Maureen Scully, based on an advanced undergraduate elective on “social forces and workplace implications,” taught at the University of Massachusetts Boston, spring 2007.
Students enjoyed sharing interesting articles they found with their group mates on the opposite side of the issue as well as with other groups pursuing other issues. For the presentations, I used an order that I anticipated would move from the most familiar critiques to newer critiques: low wages, driving out small businesses, health care coverage, and environment. Indeed, the debates about low wages and other businesses (suppliers and competitors) were quite lively, reflecting a long history of argument on both sides of these topics. In the debates on health care and the environment, students defending Wal-Mart had a more difficult time. In the environment discussion, they spoke more to Wal-Mart’s aspirations and promises than to demonstrated impacts. We discussed that Wal-Mart had to invest time, energy, and public relations in addressing all of these stakeholders. Silence on the issues does not seem to be an option. We also discussed where Wal-Mart’s position had shifted and where it would cost them most, least, or nothing to take action on these issues. Wages had not increased, but they were using their influence to create “green” practices (for example, in packaging) down the supply chain, costs largely born by suppliers. In the discussion with the class at large, students were more eager to defend Wal-Mart’s wage and product pricing policies as simply pricing what the market will bear. They seemed to shrug that this was the price of free competition. They argued that both workers and shoppers could “vote with their feet.” In the health care and environment domains, students were much more agitated about Wal-Mart’s impacts. They remembered and had taken notes on vivid details, such as Wal-Mart workers’ needs straining California hospitals and a contaminated ground water problem discovered in Georgia, all of which students had uncovered in their own research. Day 3 is crafted to engage the discussion of Wal-Mart’s market power – is it