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Helping employees in need had long been an informal practice at Wal-Mart, says John Lawrence, an aid program director for the giant retailer. When an employee's financial plight became known, for example, co-workers would raise money and the company would match the amount. In some cases, Lawrence says, if an associate was in a dire situation, it would be discussed at a corporate meeting and money would be collected on the spot.
Still, there was a nagging feeling that "we weren't being equitable in how we distributed the funds," Lawrence says. A night-shift employee might be in financial crisis, for example, but his plight might not become known because his working hours would give him less visibility in the workplace.
To establish a system that would give all workers equal access to financial help, Wal-Mart in 2002 established the Associate in Critical Need Trust, which Lawrence directs. It is operated under the Wal-Mart Foundation and is set up to help front-line employees-the nonmanagement workers in stores and warehouses, for example, or in support positions in corporate offices.
Wal-Mart contributes 50 percent of the trust fund, and the other half is contributed by 77 percent of the company's 67,000 managers in the United States. "We do not ask [nonmanagement associates] to contribute," Lawrence says, "mainly because they are the recipients."
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