Phone calls to various Walmart stores south of the Mason-Dixon Line asking for Confederate flag-related stuff confirmed the news: Walmart, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail behemoth, is pulling all merchandise displaying the flag from its nationwide empire of 5,000 stores and Sam's Clubs.
"Sorry, but I don't think we have those flags or the swim trunks with the flag on them anymore," says a friendly worker answering the phone at Walmart's Easton, Maryland store.
In a move that smacks of economic consequence rather than ethical business, Walmart slipped the announcement into the late news cycle Monday night. Joining other big players like Sears, eBay, and Kmart, the country's biggest retailer dipped a toe into the post-Reconstruction era by announcing through a spokesman, "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site."
The company's move was applauded by the likes of Fortune magazine, which claimed it "signals a new corporate activism."
But with even South Carolina's staunchest goobers backpedaling, Walmart had no choice. Gone are the days when big companies could respond to things like gay marriage or church massacres by laying low until the issue flamed out. Walmart's strategy is evidence of a tidal shift, in which companies better serve their ledgers by getting in front of an issue.
The watershed moment might have been Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act earlier this year. It legalized discrimination against gay people under religious grounds. The subsequent outcry forced Indiana to retreat after major corporations expressed fear that they too would be seen as knuckle-draggers.
Angie's List put an Indianapolis expansion on hold. Apple chief executive Tim Cook wrote an editorial in the Washington Post, decrying legislation that "rationalize[s] injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear." Execs at Gap and Levi's spoke out publicly while Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said it would be "unconscionable" for the company to have "a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination."
Alas, news reports late Monday told of Confederate-related merchandise still being offered on Walmart's web site.
But a day later, the only sign of the controversial symbol still being peddled was a a Mississippi state flag that includes the X-shaped red, white, and blue stars and bars for $24.63.
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