updated 10/16/2007 2:55:13 PM ET 2007-10-16T18:55:13

A former nun and conflict resolution expert is leaving Wal-Mart Stores Inc. just over a year after she was hired to help the world’s largest retailer rally support from environmental groups and other nonprofits in its battles with union-led critics.

Harriet Hentges was hired in July 2006 as Wal-Mart’s first “director of stakeholder engagement” to work with outside groups to develop Wal-Mart policies in areas including the environment and health care.

Hentges will leave Friday for personal reasons, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said. He declined to elaborate on those reasons.

Hentges helped mediate conflicts in Iraq and the Balkans for the United States Institute of Peace. She has maintained a home in Washington, D.C., while commuting to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., according to people familiar with her work.

Tovar said Wal-Mart is seeking a replacement for the same position and remains committed to working with outside groups on issues including the environment.

Hentges was hired after Chief Executive Lee Scott pledged in late 2005 to cut energy use, reduce solid waste and offer more organic and environmentally beneficial products in its more than 4,000 U.S. stores.

Her position was one of a flurry of changes at Wal-Mart as it faced organized criticism from union-backed groups Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart.com over worker pay, health insurance and other issues.

Some environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, are allied with the union critics.

Other green activists, including Environmental Defense, have opted to work with Wal-Mart to take advantage of what they see as the huge potential for influencing change at the world’s largest retailer and its network of over 60,000 global suppliers.

Gwen Rutta, director of corporate partnerships for Environmental Defense, said Hentges’s background with nonprofit groups made her a credible contact to those groups for Wal-Mart.

“They’ve got some very big shoes to fill in replacing her,” Rutta said.

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