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story.lead_photo.caption Walmart began its annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in a virtual format. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

Walmart Inc. has continued to pursue its long-term strategy and effectively manage the business despite current health and economic challenges, Doug McMillon, president and chief executive, said Wednesday at the company's shareholders meeting.

The Bentonville retailer's 50th annual meeting was the first to be conducted virtually, board chairman Greg Penner said. Walmart opted to take the meeting, normally held in Northwest Arkansas, online this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shareholders eligible to vote were able to attend, ask questions and cast their votes using an online link. In addition, the 30-minute meeting was webcast live on Walmart's corporate website.

McMillon also expressed appreciation to Walmart's more than 2 million employees worldwide for their efforts to meet customers' needs during the pandemic.

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"Despite operating in a difficult and volatile environment, our associates have been amazing," McMillon said. "They are stepping up to serve our customers, communities and shareholders. Our plan is to continue finding ways to help and serve. We're thankful to have a strong and well-positioned business from which to do so."

McMillon outlined the many steps Walmart has taken to help ensure the safety of workers and customers, as well as the extra pay and bonuses employees have received in recent months.

The company spent about $900 million in the first quarter on these pandemic-related measures, McMillon said. The employee monetary incentives made up most of that expenditure, he said.

Voters considered eight proposals, including four submitted by shareholders.

A preliminary tally showed shareholders approved annual compensation packages for Walmart's top executives. The board of directors had recommended that shareholders approve the compensation, detailed in the company's annual proxy statement.

Shareholders also elected 11 director nominees, all of whom currently serve on the board: Cesar Conde, Tim Flynn, Sarah Friar, Carla Harris, Tom Horton, Marissa Mayer, McMillon, Penner, Steven Reinemund, Rob Walton and Steuart Walton.

However, voters rejected the proposals that came from shareholders, who requested: A report assessing the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags; a report assessing strategies to strengthen Walmart's supplier antibiotic use standards for farm animals; that hourly employees be included on the initial list of candidates for the board of directors; and a report on actions taken to strengthen Walmart's efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

The last two proposals were presented by the worker organization United for Respect at Walmart. The group asked last year that an hourly worker have a seat on the board, enlisting U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to present that proposal.

Walmart's board recommended in its proxy statement that all the shareholders' proposals be rejected. But in response to Carolyn Davis' presentation regarding sexual harassment, in which she described her own experience of being harassed on the job, Walmart's chief legal officer, Rachel Brand, said the company agrees with much of what Davis said despite not being able to support the proposal.

"We do not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace," Brand said. "Any report of sexual harassment must be taken seriously and investigated, and they are. We encourage associates to report misconduct, we investigate those reports, and we take action when misconduct is found."

Official voting results will appear in a report to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Brand said.

After the meeting, other Walmart executives answered shareholders' questions.

Dan Bartlett, Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, was asked if the social distancing made necessary by the pandemic will affect design plans for the retailer's new headquarters. Bartlett said it won't because the buildings haven't "taken form or shape" yet.

"We're at a phase in our planning and architectural design in which we have plenty of opportunities to get the best practices and learnings as everybody starts to adapt to the new normal," Bartlett said.

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