Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a group representing the interests of warehouse employees, says a PR associate at Mercury Public Affairs, a firm that works with Walmart, posed as a student to infiltrate one of its press conferences. The WWU says it was a “closed press conference” and the associate, Stephanie Harnett, signed in on their media list as a “USC student” named “Zoe Mitchell.”
Harnett then showed up at a press conference yesterday and handed out business cards to reporters “telling people she works for Walmart.” Yesterday’s presser was held to announce what the WWU calls “the largest anti-Walmart rally in US history.”
Gawker, which first reported on the story, has a link to a document showing that Mercury is being paid $60,000 to help Walmart open up a new store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown area. And the WWU has posted pictures of Harnett and the business card she was handing out.
We were in touch with Mercury about the story and received this statement from Becky Warren, Mercury‘s MD:
The action taken by Ms. Harnett was in no way approved, authorized, or directed by Walmart or Mercury. Stephanie is a junior member of our team who made an immature decision. She showed very poor judgment and Mercury takes full responsibility. We are taking the necessary disciplinary actions. This is an isolated incident that has never happened before and will not happen again.
Gawker also got a statement from Walmart’s senior director of community affairs, Steven Restivo, who sent the statement to us as well after we were in touch with Mercury:
“These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business. We insist that all our vendors conduct themselves in a way that is transparent and honest and we will reinforce that expectation to ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”
Walmart is already investigating allegations of “alleged corrupt business practices” in Mexico and beyond, so it doesn’t need another ethical issue on its hands.
And as for Harnett’s ethics, perhaps she should refer to the story we wrote just this morning.
*Update: Mercury’s MD Becky Warren confirms with Gawker that Harnett has been fired.