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ATLANTA - Andrew Young, a former United Nations ambassador, civil rights activist, and Atlanta mayor, said yesterday he will serve as national steering committee chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a pro-Wal-Mart group. The 16-member steering committee was formed in December to counter charges from two union-backed groups, WakeUpWalMart.com and WalMartWatch.com, that are pressuring Wal-Mart to improve wages and benefits.
"I have committed my life to helping the poor, and I believe that if more companies followed Wal-Mart's lead in providing opportunity and savings to those who need it most, more Americans battling poverty would realize the American dream," said Young. "I have closely followed the recent public debate -- much of it one-sided -- on Wal-Mart's impact on America's working families. I've watched the attacks, I've listened to the charges, and I think the critics have it wrong. For those who care about the poor, it is time to step up, speak out, and join this national discussion."
Young has held a wide variety of leadership positions over the past several decades. Beginning his career as an ordained minister and top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, he went on to be elected to three terms as a U.S. congressman before being appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Subsequently he served two terms as the mayor of Atlanta, and assumed a leadership position as co-chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
In 1994 President Clinton appointed Young chairman of the $100 million Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund. He is a founding principal and chairman of GoodWorks International, through which he focuses his long-held mission on facilitating economic development in the Caribbean and in Africa.
According to published reports, Young said he isn't being paid for the steering committee position, but that GoodWorks has a contract from Working Families for Wal-Mart for consulting work. Wal-Mart is the largest financial backer of the group.
Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, said yesterday that Working Families for Wal-Mart is "another well-funded ploy by Wal-Mart to try and cover up its record of driving down wages, not providing affordable health care, shifting costs onto taxpayers, and shipping U.S. jobs overseas."
Blank called on Young to use his new position "to help us change Wal-Mart for the better, rather than defend its abysmal record of child labor violations and poor health care."