Wal-Mart’s obligation to Deborah Shank, its employees and itself.

The Deborah Shank story has generated a ton of comments around the blogosphere and around here since the Wall Street Journal covered it last week. They can be roughly divided into two categories: Wal-Mart was terrible to do this and excuses for how terrible Wal-Mart has been. Nobody doubts that Wal-Mart had every legal right to do what it did. The question becomes then, what was the moral thing for it to do? I think it was Milton Friedman who wrote that the only moral obligation a corporation has is to make a profit for its stockholders. Yet I have to wonder whether this is even going to make money for Wal-Mart in the long run. If you saw the video I linked to the other day, you heard one of the lawyers they had on Fox News (that says a lot, doesn't it?) ask (and I paraphrase) "What kind of message does this send to all of Wal-Mart's other employees?" Obviously, different employees are going to get different messages, but the one they ought to get is something along the lines of "You are expendable." Can a business run effectively with employees who are fed that message every day in so many different ways? I doubt it. This kind of thing can happen to anybody. Anybody. That's why it's so much more than a Wal-Mart story. However, as is the case with so many Wal-Mart stories, the company is at the forefront of sending this country, not to mention itself, in a direction it really shouldn't go. PS Again, the Wal-Mart Watch page for donations to Deborah Shank is here.

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