Wal-Mart boycott called over link to gay group
By Marilyn Geewax, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 11, 2006
Washington -- Conservative Christian organizations are contacting supporters to urge a Thanksgiving weekend boycott of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. because the company is offering to pay a commission to a small nonprofit gay organization for sending buyers its way.
Each purchase made by clicking through the Washington D.C. Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People's Web site to Wal-Mart's retail site generates a payment to the group worth 5 percent of the sale.
Donald Wildmon, chairman of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, said Friday that his group has sent e-mails to 3 million supporters urging a boycott because the deal suggests Wal-Mart executives believe "the homosexual agenda is worthy of their support."
Operation Rescue, a Christian conservative group based in Kansas, also is calling for a Thanksgiving boycott of the retailer.
Michael Sessa, president of the D.C. Center, said he was "not familiar with the brouhaha" because his group's Web links are so rarely used.
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said that since the link was established with the group in 2002, it has attracted one purchase at Wal-Mart, worth $41.73. That purchase generated a payment of $4.17, apparently because Wal-Mart was offering a 10 percent commission at the time, he said.
Tovar said the online connection to the group comes through a long-standing operation called the Walmart.com Affiliate Program. The program encourages shoppers to buy goods through Wal-Mart's Web site, knowing their purchases will generate a commission for the affiliated group.
The affiliates program is "a common marketing practice" used by major online retailers, Tovar said. He noted that more than 43,000 organizations participate, including more than 100 Christian organizations.
The shopping page of the D.C. Center's Web site has active links to many retailers, including Dell Home Systems, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Attack coming from other side
But since August, conservative groups have been hammering Wal-Mart for agreeing to enter into a partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The company said it forges business partnerships with many minority organizations to help it attract a diverse array of suppliers.
That August announcement rankled some conservative groups because it followed Wal-Mart's decision in April to sell DVDs of "Brokeback Mountain," a movie about a love affair between two male ranchers.
The American Family Association's Wildmon said the small amount of the D.C. Center's single commission "confirms exactly what we said about Wal-Mart."
"They are willing to keep up that association and be identified with that group and keep it going, despite the fact that it is going to cost them" when the boycott takes effect, he said.
Wildmon said that before launching the boycott drive, "we asked Wal-Mart to withdraw [from the affiliation] and did not receive a positive answer."
His group is urging supporters to shun Wal-Mart on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, a crucial sales period in the retail industry. Wal-Mart sales have been lackluster in recent months, and it is planning to offer deep discounts during the holiday sales period.
Make that: Christmas sales period.
After having been criticized by Christian groups for referring to holiday sales, Wal-Mart is using the term "Christmas and holiday" season in its advertising and store displays.
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