Andrew_young_headshot_2LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young will become the public face of a Wal-Mart-backed group whose aim is to combat criticism of the world’s largest retailer, the group said on Monday.

Young, who was an aide to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights protests of the 1960s and served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter, will serve as chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart’s national steering committee, the group said in a statement.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) was among the financial backers of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group of people "who understand and appreciate Wal-Mart’s positive impact on the working families of America," according to its Web site.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer has stepped up efforts to counter criticism from unions and other groups who say the company pays poverty-level wages, discriminates against women and drives competitors out of business.

Image has become increasingly important for Wal-Mart as it reaches out to wealthier shoppers and grapples with growing opposition to its expansion, particularly into urban areas.

"The critics have it wrong," Young said in a statement. "For those who care about the poor it is time to step up, speak out and join this national discussion."

Wake Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed group critical of Wal-Mart, called on Young to use his position to push for changes at the retailer.

"Ambassador Young is now in a unique position to reach out to Wal-Mart and CEO Lee Scott and urge them to change," Paul Blank, campaign director for Wake Up Wal-Mart, said in a statement.

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