Walmart Canada apologized on Saturday for the “confusion and disappointment” it caused when it chose to end its involvement with a Quebec program that provides job training for people with intellectual disabilities.
In an emailed statement, spokesman Robert Nicol said the company’s goal in withdrawing from the program was to find other ways to help the participants, including through direct employment.
“As we move forward, we will work with all of these individuals, their families, and local social service agencies to find new arrangements that will provide support to participants, including the opportunity to hire these people directly,” he said.
The retailer has been facing criticism since a health agency in central Quebec told the media earlier this week that the program’s participants would be losing their jobs.
Walmart has not confirmed why it is pulling out of the program, which is run by local agencies and provides work experience for people with intellectual disabilities or who are on the autism spectrum.
It has also not said how many people would be affected by the change.
On Friday, another company spokesperson insisted the decision did not amount to firing the participants.
Anika Malik said the program would be phased out over the next few weeks to allow workers to “plan the transition and find alternative measures.”
“We wish the best of luck to the participants and thank them for their time with us,” Malik wrote in an emailed statement.
A day later, Nicol said the retailer remained committed to providing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, even if it could not continue with the existing program “in its current form.”
“Cleary, the way we have handled this change has created confusion and disappointment, and we sincerely apologize for it,” he wrote.
Walmart’s decision to pull out of the program drew a strong response from social media users and organizations representing people with disabilities.
While many of the online comments denounced the retailer, others said it should be commended for having participated in the program for so many years.
Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette was among those who went online to express his disappointment on behalf of the Quebec government.
On Saturday, Barrette appeared unconvinced by the company’s attempt at damage control.
“I have only one message for Walmart management: I do not believe you,” he wrote on Twitter.