Just a day in advance of International Women's Day, Walmart has launched the "Empowering Women Together" section of Walmart.com, an online store featuring products made by small, women-owned businesses from nine countries around the globe, including the U.S. The program is part of a broader initiative for women's economic empowerment announced by Walmart in late 2011 on the heels of a class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit. Products on the site range from $0.28 for a customizable photo card designed by women-owned E-Designs, to a $58 earring and bracelet set from Peruvian jewelry designer Isabella Lazarte. In a prepared statement reported on CNBC.com, Andrea Thomas, Walmart senior vice president, described the benefits to consumers and suppliers: "Through Walmart's Empowering Women Together, customers can help these suppliers increase their incomes, better their lives and create new jobs for others, and Walmart can help these suppliers gain experience with buying trends, scaling, product development and acumen they need to build their businesses."
Could this be a major development for the localization trend? It's hard to tell the true impact of the nascent program just yet, but many will be watching to see the effect not only to these small businesses, but also the local communities in which they work. For Walmart, a company known for its consistently low prices, we have to wonder what portions of the proceeds are making it back to the women entrepreneurs, or what will happen if this massive big-box empire decides to stop purchasing from a vendor. With many questions left unanswered, it will be interesting to see the return of the initiative for women, small businesses and Walmart.