Wal-Mart Stores, Inc’s board approved a US$15 billion stock repurchase plan, its first in two years, the world’s largest retailer announced at its annual meeting on Friday.
The event at the Bud Walton arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is traditionally more of a pep rally for thousands of employees than a typical annual meeting.
Shareholders attend, including members of the Walton family, who collectively own a little more than half of Wal-Mart’s shares.
However, the largest and loudest contingent is 14,000 workers from around the world, including store workers and truck drivers.
Wal-Mart continues to face pressure from some shareholders over issues including the alleged bribery of officials in Mexico and a supposed cover-up reported by the New York Times last year, as well as factory safety after industry building catastrophes in Bangladesh.
Executives emphasized integrity in their speeches on Friday, echoing comments made at last year’s event.
“You operate with integrity, our company was founded on integrity,” chief executive Mike Duke told the crowd.
“For Wal-Mart, compliance is an absolute. Make no mistake about it, we will do the right thing,” he added.
This year there were protests by OUR Walmart, a union-backed group that hopes to gain the attention of the Walton family and other shareholders. OUR Walmart wants Wal-Mart to publicly commit to providing full-time work with a minimum wage of US$25,000 a year.
Despite the protests, Wal-Mart has continued to increase sales and profit, and its shares have risen. Still, a 15.4 percent gain in Wal-Mart shares since last year’s annual meeting was smaller than a 24.1 percent gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, of which Wal-Mart is a component.
As of Thursday, Wal-Mart had about US$712 million remaining under a US$15 billion share repurchase program announced in June 2011.