Update (4/2/2015 4:36 p.m.): The Associated Press is reporting that the Arkansas legislature passed a revised religious objections bill after Gov. Asa Hutchinson declined to sign the previous version. The new bill “prohibits state and local government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs without proving a compelling interest. The legislation now heads to Hutchinson, and his office says he plans to sign it into law.”
By Barbara Frankel
Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson didn’t follow Walmart’s urgent request to veto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but he did ask the legislature to change it to more closely mirror the federal law and avoid the furor over LGBT discrimination Indiana has encountered.
The powerful voice of Walmart may have been a crucial factor in his determination, since Hutchinson had said he would sign the bill up until Walmart’s CEO asked him not to.
What’s significant here are the actions of Walmart, the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500, the employer of 50,000 people in Arkansas (where it is headquartered) and a corporate powerhouse.
In a statement from CEO and President Doug McMillon after the state legislature passed the original bill, Walmart said: “Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve. It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”
Walmart’s decision to speak out for the LGBT community shows how important the issue is and how far the company has come.
Walmart has been a leader in the D&I space in several areas, including supplier diversity and efforts to build a talent pipeline for women, Blacks, Asians and Latinos. But Walmart did not offer same-sex domestic-partner benefits until 2013, well behind most Fortune 500 companies. Walmart’s diversity efforts earned it spots on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2005 and 2007 but in 2008, DiversityInc said no company could be on the list without same-sex domestic-partner benefits.
Other corporations have opposed the Arkansas bill, as well as the similar law in Indiana signed by Gov Mike Pence. They include: Wells Fargo, Eli Lilly and Company, Cummins, Microsoft, Apple, Yelp and Salesforce.