Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Michelle Obama Leaves TreeHouse Board of Directors

TreeHouse Foods, Inc. announced minutes ago that Michelle Obama, wife of presidential hopeful Barack Obama, has resigned as a director of the company where she served on the board since 2005.

Mrs. Obama cited "increased demands on her time" as the reason for her departure.

Sure, she is busy hitting the campaign trail on behalf of her husband, including an appearance on Good Morning America today.

Sure, maybe she resigned from the position because last month she was re-elected to three more years on the board, a term that would overlap with her husband's time in the White House if he becomes president.

If that's the case, though, why resign now?

For the answer, look no further than your neighborhood Wal-Mart.

According to TreeHouse's financial filings, Wal-Mart accounted for 16.1 percent of its sales last year, a 37 percent increase from 2005, making the Bentonville, Arkansas retailer TreeHouse's biggest customer by a long shot.

Meanwhile, Senator Obama openly criticizes Wal-Mart for its anti-union labor practices, including at a recent event in Trenton, New Jersey where he answered an audience member's question about Wal-Mart by responding: "I won't shop there."

Understandably, this conflict of interest has
drawn criticism. So let's be realistic about this: Mrs. Obama needs to sever ties with TreeHouse before this becomes a bigger issue.

Wal-Mart ties have already been a thorn in the side of Senator Hillary Clinton, under fire as she
continues to distance herself from her years on the Wal-Mart board of directors, when she failed to push forth any meaningful reforms of Wal-Mart's labor practices. As Wal-Mart continues to become a contentious issue for Clinton, Mrs. Obama is wise to avoid any potentially harmful confrontations with the bright yellow smiley face.

Yet if Mrs. Obama is going to take an increased role in this campaign, and if this campaign is truly committed to not playing politics as usual, then Mrs. Obama should offer up a better explanation for leaving TreeHouse than "increased demands on her time."

At a time when the nation is just getting to know the fantastic woman standing beside Barack, a more forthright explaination would make a lot of voters proud to support both Obamas.