What do Walmart, a Handbag, and Kendall Jenner Have in Common?


Lately if feels like there is a new PR scandal every other day that is dominating our social media feeds and taking over the nightly news.  From United Airline’s brutal treatment of a passenger, to Pepsi’s insensitive commercial, it is clear that transparency in business dealings is here to stay.  With the rise of cell phones and social media, anyone has the ability to become a “journalist”. Cell phones are capturing graphic and alarming footage of wrong doings, and social media is making these videos go viral.  We are living in a day and age where one person with a cell phone can take down an entire company… so how do you protect your brand from that?

PR Nightmares: The Case for Transparency

The New York Post recently published a shocking article about a shopper at Wal-Mart who found a startling and unsettling discovery in a purse she purchased.  When she opened the purse she found a note written in Chinese.  I can only imagine if I found myself in a similar situation I would probably do what this customer did and find someone to help translate it.  The woman was shocked to learn that the author of the letter was in a Chinese prison and the letter detailed the horrid conditions she was in and how she was being beaten and starved.

When I heard about this story it caused me to first pause and reflect on how appreciative I am to live in a society where these types of conditions are difficult to imagine.  I then thought about the impact for Wal-Mart and how they must feel learning that a product they purchased may have been manufactured in these types of conditions. In response to the letter and story that went viral, Wal-Mart released the following statement that addressed the issue, but also made no promises that it wouldn’t happen again:

“We can’t comment specifically on this note, because we have no way to verify the origin of the letter, but one of our requirements for the suppliers who supply products for sale at Walmart is all work should be voluntary as indicated in our Standards for Suppliers.”

Boundless CaresI then started thinking about our industry and how grateful I am to work at Boundless, a company whose CEO recently launched Boundless Cares, an initiative focused on providing a positive impact on society.  I know, I know this probably sounds like a blatant plug for Boundless, but hear me out. We launched Boundless Cares because in the promotional products industry there are over 3000 suppliers and less than 1%, that’s right 1% of suppliers have product certifications!  For us, this was not okay.  Instead, we launched the industry’s first transparent product catalog where Boundless verifies these products and we can provide: product safety, product quality, supply chain security, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship certifications.


Although I was excited to help launch this initiative for Boundless, I still feel for the woman in China who wrote that letter, and many other unknown people working in unethical conditions. Although I would love the opportunity to directly help the woman who wrote that letter, I realize the likelihood of being able to do so is probably low.  It is easy to feel that as a single individual that you can’t make a difference, but you can!  I can, for example, continue to push initiatives like Boundless Cares and help educate buyers on why transparency matters. I can help mitigate risks by helping our clients protect their brand and ensure they feel confident in their supply chain. And most importantly we can make informed purchases from suppliers that responsibly source their products.

As a marketer and brand ambassador, I feel for Wal-Mart as I’m sure they did not intentionally seek out this type of worker in their supply chain and can only imagine how much work is ahead of them to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  As you work with vendors I encourage you to think about this story and push your vendors to have a zero tolerance policy in regard to fair labor and make sure they can prove it. There is power in your buying habits, and change can be made one purchase at a time.

Want to learn more about transparency? Read up on our initiatives here!

2 responses to “What do Walmart, a Handbag, and Kendall Jenner Have in Common?”

  1. While none of us want to contribute to supporting this type of supply-chain shenanigans, how do we know that the letter-writer was actually in a Chinese prison? Is it possible that they were actually working in an approved factory and only wanted to create problems for the manufacturer? I never read a follow up to this story which substantiated the note’s claims. Just sayin’…

    • Hi Bruce,

      Great point! In my knowledge of the situation, they were never able to prove or disprove that the letter was authentic, and Walmart’s statement said as much. I think that incidents like this show that big corporations should be paying more attention and will lead companies to pay more attention to where their goods are coming from.

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