Can Walmart Earn the Girl Scouts’ Good Citizenship Award?

by cv harquail on August 14, 2009

You don’t earn a merit badge for Good Citizenship by picking on the Girl Scouts. But what if Wal-mart wanted to?

Commenters here and on other blogs that picked up my story that Wal-mart has chosen to compete with the Girl Scouts by knocking off the Girls Scouts’ two most popular cookies have criticized Wal-mart for not being good citizens. Even those commenters who argue that Wal-mart can make and sell whatever it wants have recognized that competing against the Girl Scouts isn’t an effective way to look like a good community member, much less to be authentically a Good Citizen.

Many recognize that just because Wal-mart can sell imitation Girl Scout cookies doesn’t mean that it should.  Thus, many have raised the question:

What should Wal-mart do now?

Commenters have suggested three options:

  1. Wal-mart should stop making or selling the imitation Girl Scout cookies.
  2. Wal-mart should stop selling the cookies during the 3 months surrounding the Girl Scout Cookie Sale in their community, so that they don’t compete directly with the Girl Scouts during that time.
  3. Wal-mart should continue to sell the imitation Girl Scout cookies, but make a financial contribution to the Girl Scouts to make up for the fund-raising revenue that Wal-mart’s sales will divert from the Girl Scouts.

Solutions that don’t address the problem

These options address the potential outcome of Wal-mart’s decision, but fail to address what lead Wal-mart to choose to compete with the Girl Scouts in the first place. These options are solutions that don’t address the problem.

A real solution needs to address the underlying problem that lead Wal-mart to make this choice.

The underlying problem is that Wal-mart claims to want to be a Good Corporate Citizen, but it isn’t supporting these claims through its corporate actions. This is a classic situation of an organization being inauthentic.

How Wal-mart can become an authentic Good Corporate Citizen

badgeIf Wal-mart wants to be authentically a Good Corporate Citizen, it needs to put its claims into action. Right now, Wal-mart should be trying to figure out what it means to be a Good Corporate Citizen and how to make sure that they demonstrate Good Citizenship in all the business decisions Wal-mart makes.

To do this, Wal-mart can take literally take a page from the Junior Girl Scouts Handbook, and work on its Good Citizenship Badge.

Good Corporate Citizenship: Badge requirements

1. Define means to be a Good Corporate Citizen

2. Build Good Citizenship into organizational systems

3. Seek a Win-Win-Win Solution

1. Define means to be a Good Corporate Citizen

Wal-mart needs to understand more fully what it means to be a Good Citizen, not only in the abstract but more importantly, specifically at Wal-mart.

Wal-mart needs to ask itself:

  • When we say we want to be Good Corporate Citizens, what does that mean for us?
  • What do people in our community think it means to be a good citizen?
  • What is the current ‘best practice’ when it comes to Good Corporate Citizenship?
  • Are our current programs ‘enough’ to meet these expectations? Are they enough to take us where we want to go?

2. Build Good Citizenship into organizational systems

Somebody at Wal-mart thought that competing against the Girl Scouts was okay. Somebody at Wal-mart still thinks that competing against the Girl Scouts is okay. Somebody at Wal-mart hasn’t thought through what it means to be a Good Corporate Citizen.

Keep in mind, first of all, that Wal-mart is a company full of good people, and a company that has done some pretty bad things. As in any organization, the systems, practices, leadership and culture of the organization dominate any aggregate goodness (or badness) of the organizations employees. No matter how many good people work there, it is the systems of the organization that determine whether the organization acts rightly or not. So, let’s be clear– it is the systems at Wal-mart that are leading somebody there to think that competing against the Girl Scouts is okay.

Wal-mart needs to take what it has figured out about what good citizenship ‘looks like’ and then build this into their systems. They can follow the model of their sustainability program, or even just use an explicit checkpoint, to make sure that they are doing what they say they want to do.

3. Seek a Win-Win-Win Solution

There is another possible action step for Wal-mart, and that would be to go for the Win-Win-Win.

You’re probably familiar with the classic win-win, where two sides in a conflict work together to resolve the issue in a way that benefits both parties. That would be a good strategy, but pursuing a Win-Win-Win strategy is even better.

A Win-Win-Win strategy is one that benefits not only the two parties that are disagreeing, but also benefits the community that surrounds these two participants. In this situation, Wal-mart needs to work with the Girl Scouts to pursue a solution that contributes not only to the Wal-mart and to the Girl Scouts but also to the community. The solution they pursue should contribute to the community in a range of ways, by doing anything from demonstrating that these seemingly opposed parties can find a solution, to showing us how to shift from adversaries to allies, to showing that both organizations can learn, all the way to creating new relationships between specific, local Wal-marts, the local Girl Scout Council and the local troops, and the surrounding communities.

There is one thing that critics and supporters of Wal-mart agree on


We all want Wal-mart become (more of) a force for good.

Wal-mart can be(come) a force for good in business, in the environment, in society, and in its local communities. As a first step, Wal-mart needs to become more authentic. Instead of claiming, in its 2009 Annual Report and elsewhere, that Wal-mart “embrace(s) our responsibility as a global company to lead and collaborate on issues important to associates, customers, members, suppliers and shareholders” and to “make a difference in our communities every day by giving back” Wal-mart needs to act in ways that are authentic.

Wal-mart needs to demonstrate these claims in their actions, and they need to do it now.

To be a Good Corporate Citizen, you have to act like one. That’s the only way that Wal-mart can earn the any recognition as a Good Corporate Citizen.


Joseph Logan August 14, 2009 at 9:52 am

On point #2: If it didn’t happen before, I assume by this point that Wal-Mart’s PR people have done a cost-benefit analysis on making a change–that is, which would cost more–bad press from continuing to sell the products or lost revenue from ditching them? These things take some time, but I’m betting they are willing to ride this one out. There’s outrage right now, but how long can it be sustained?
.-= Joseph Logan´s last blog ..Dr. House and the organizational DDx =-.

Ryan Jones August 14, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Kind of a strange move for Wal-Mart considering all their recent hard work on the sustainability (enviro) front. Have not seen too much floating around about this, but will do some more digging. Tks for unearthing this.

Jason August 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm

This Blogger does not have her story straight at all…
Considering the point is to bring profits in for Girl Scouts, Walmart could give $0.01 from each box sold and still do better than girl scouts profits while allowing the Girl Scouts to find a more valuable way to bring in revenue.

At least in Canada. 12 boxes of cookies that sell for $4 each bring in only $0.50 profit from each box. $6 profit… The cookie company is the ones making money on this fundraiser…
Scouts have Apple Day which brings in over $30 profit per Scout and only a few hours of work! Just because this Girl Scout Cookies is a tradition, doesn’t mean it should continue…
Congrats to whoever made this cookies and congrats to walmart distributing them!

ex girl scout August 23, 2009 at 6:50 pm

i think wall mart should run girl scouts out of cookie sells when i was a girl scout it was fun and we learned allot about how to be good people but now girl scouts and boy scouts are just money hungry rich people that teach are kids to be stuck up snobs that think they are better then all people and they teach are kids to trample on the little people to get to the top wile taking are hard earned money from are kids there like a colt they make parent spend lots of money on 30hr classes far from home that have to be taken often just so we can take are kids camping and teach them life skills we don’t need the scouts to do that we can just get are kids and there friends together and teach them all the old good ways of scouting are self. with out spending hundreds of dollars a year to do it.

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