Calls for Walgreens to Come Clean on Agenta 21 Sustainability
by Judy Kent
Chicago, IL / Washington, DC - After nine months of deafening silence, free-market activists with the National Center for Public Policy Research are once again calling on Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson to explain his company's membership in a controversial trade association that is promoting expensive sustainability measures that threaten to distort the retail marketplace.
"I think that somewhere near Walgreens' headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois, there's a cat who has Greg Wasson's tongue," said Justin Danhof, Esq., director of the National Center's Free Enterprise Project. "He is second vice chairman of the board of directors of RILA [the Retail Industry Leaders Association], the group which is promoting top-down sustainability mandates. It is time he answer for RILA's actions."
In January, at Walgreens annual shareholder meeting, Danhof asked Wasson, in part:
Consider a hypothetical shopping cart containing a hundred dollars worth of commonly purchased retail items. How much more would you personally be willing to pay if all of those products were labeled as "sustainable?" And, after that, do you think it is fair to charge low and middle-income Americans - many of whom are on very tight budgets and just lost a bunch in the so-called fiscal cliff deal - to pay more for company products because Walgreens and other retailers want to greenwash their images?
Danhof's full question is available here.
Wasson became incoherent, and he could not answer Danhof's question. He replied, in part: "Um... as... as far as... ah... as far as what the cost may be... certainly, we think there's opportunity to drive sustainability... corporate social responsibility without driving costs up. So... acknowledge your comments. Appreciate your comments. And thank you very much." To date, Wasson has still not provided a coherent reply to the National Center's inquiry.
"Maybe I caught the CEO of a company with $71 billion in sales last year off guard with such a simple question, but he has had three-quarters of a year to think about it," said Danhof. "I hope, for his employees and investors sake, Wasson doesn't take this long in making other corporate decisions."
In conjunction with the Walgreens shareholder meeting, and to assess the impact RILA's sustainability agenda could have on its member companies, the National Center commissioned a poll asking the American public how much more they would be willing to pay for retail products in order for retailers to comply with heightened, costly sustainability standards. More than half (52 percent) of consumers polled said they would not spend a single penny more for products in order to meet RILA standards, and only three percent said they would be willing to spend ten percent or more.
"Wasson said RILA presented an opportunity to push sustainability standards without dramatically increasing prices," said Danhof. "Is that opportunity being realized, or are most Walgreens customers paying more then they should at the checkout line against their wishes? Our poll clearly shows that - if given a choice - most Americans would decline these 'green' goods."
The likely answer is that the cost for many retail items may be inflated because of RILA's initiatives. In his seminal expose detailing RILA's primary agenda titled, "The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA): A Cartel that Threatens Innovation and Competitiveness," National Center Senior Fellow Dr. Bonner Cohen explained that:
While RILA remains vague about what is meant by the "root causes of deeply embedded social and environmental challenges," scratch beneath the surface of the high-minded sounding phrases, and the organization's political agenda is revealed. The elevation of greenhouse-gas emissions to a place of prominence, for example, puts RILA squarely on the side of alarmists who, in the absence of any compelling data, blame human activities, i.e., the burning of fossil fuels, for climate change... While the standards and practices dictated by 'sustainable' trade associations do not have the force of law behind them, their effect on businesses and consumers can be as far-reaching as the most sweeping edicts from Washington regulators.
"Wasson should reject RILA's extra-regulatory extremism and rededicate Walgreens to price and quality concerns," added Danhof. "If he does that, his customers and shareholders will reap the rewards."
Starting in early 2012, National Center staffers confronted the CEOs of five major retailers, who are all members of RILA - Target, J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Gap and CVS Caremark - about their engagement with RILA. Through its Free Enterprise Project, the National Center demanded these corporate leaders explain how RILA's goals are consistent with their fiduciary duties to increase shareholder value, and explained how they could adversely affect customers.
And the retail industry took notice. Prominent retail writer Joan Verdon wrote an article detailing the National Center's work to expose RILA that appeared in more than a dozen major publications nationwide including Bloomberg Businessweek, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In early 2013, the National Center's Free Enterprise Project continued to pressure RILA members regarding their complicity with RILA's new monopoly agenda. Through the shareholder resolution process, National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour and Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq., had conversations with top executives at Best Buy and received assurances that the company would not pursue any RILA initiatives that, in their view, contradicted best business practices dictated by the free market.
Furthermore, at the 2013 Costco shareholder meeting, Danhof confronted company CEO Craig Jelinek and asked him if he would reject any RILA initiatives that would harm Costco's bottom line. Jelinek refused to answer.
In the first half of 2013, the National Center also talked with the CEOs of Sears and Home Depot, educating them about RILA's new monopoly agenda. Following the Home Depot meeting, National Center President David Ridenour privately discussed the issue of RILA's new monopoly with company CEO Francis Blake and other top executives. They assured Ridenour that the company does not always agree with RILA and would not pursue an initiative that would harm customers or the bottom line in the name of going green.
Also of note, at the Sears meeting, newly-installed CEO Edward Lambert appeared to reject any extra-regulatory mechanism of RILA saying in part that "[p]ersonally, I don't like coercive solutions. I think America is overregulated."