updated 4/20/2005 6:35:12 PM ET 2005-04-20T22:35:12

A newly formed, union-backed anti-Wal-Mart group, which draws support from environmentalists, political activists, and women's rights groups, launched its first media campaign Wednesday to call for the world's largest retailer to reform its business practices.

In its campaign called Wal-Mart Watch, Five Stones, formed in December 2004 along with its larger umbrella The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, took out an ad in Wednesday's New York Times. The ad accuses Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of low pay and meager employee benefits that force their workers to rely on Medicaid, food stamps, and federal housing to survive.

Wal-Mart accused the group of engaging in a partisan attack, and questioned the group's information.

Andrew Grossman, Wal-Mart Watch director, who is also the president of Service Employees International Union, said it wants "to provoke a national debate." He hopes the group will help improve Wal-Mart as a neighbor, employer and corporate citizen.

The moves follow stepped-up campaigns against Wal-Mart by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which is trying to organize workers at the discounter. Earlier this month, the UFCW announced it was funding a new Web site called wakeupwalmart.com, a grass roots movement to rally Americans to change practices at Wal-Mart, which has been criticized for taking advantage of its employees and hampering competition.

Unlike other anti-Wal-Mart groups, the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, based in Washington,D.C., encompasses a wide network of members on its board including the Sierra Club, National Partnership for Women & Families and Common Cause. The non-profit group plans to distribute Wal-Mart-related data and draw on hundreds of other anti-Wal-Mart organizations through its Web site called walmartwatch.com and offline efforts.

"This is just one more example of labor unions playing fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to discredit Wal-Mart," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said. "We don't know where they got these numbers. And most sources they cite are from dubious studies they commissioned."

Wal-Mart Watch claims in the New York Times ad that Wal-Mart's pay and benefits structure costs taxpayers $1.5 billion per year in government assistance that some of its 1.2 million domestic workers receive.

As part of its campaign, the group pledged to mail information to each state legislator in the nation and to local officials on "how they can pass laws to put the brakes on Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Tax once and for all."

Williams said the company was eager to work with "people with legitimate concerns about smart growth, the environment, health care and the like." She said backers of the anti-Wal-Mart group likely include people with legitimate concerns but the group comes across as "critics (who) are simply focused on their own self-interest and narrow political agendas."

"We just hope the sincere, open-minded people are smart enough not to be misled by the others," Williams said.

The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics started with initial funding from the Service Employees International Union, but now has diversified with individual and institutional donors, according to Tracy Sefl, a spokeswoman.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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