NEW YORK Why wait on Washington when theres Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the worlds largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers here, said Tuesday it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish U.S. economy.
The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions.
The move comes as Wal-Mart tries to bolster its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., recently has faced allegations that it offered bribes in Mexico and calls for better safety oversight after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies its clothes. Wal-Mart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight that companies dont have to wait for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to fix the economy.
Weve developed a national paralysis thats driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Marts U.S. business, said Tuesday at an annual retail industry convention in New York. The beauty of the private sector is that we dont have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right. We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right.
Any changes that Wal-Mart makes to its hiring and buying practices garners lots of attention because of the companys massive size. Indeed, with $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world. But critics say the changes amount to a drop in the bucket for the behemoth, and they question whether Wal-Marts initiatives will have a major impact on the U.S. economy.
They sound impressive when you first hear the numbers but when you begin to look at them, its a very tiny scale that doesnt add up to much, said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a nonprofit national research organization.
The centerpiece of Wal-Marts plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have had a particularly difficult time finding work after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December, compared with the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
Wal-Mart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months off active duty. The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Wal-Marts stores or in its Sams Club locations. Some will be at its headquarters, based in Bentonville, Ark. or the companys distribution centers.
Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Wal-Mart hasnt worked out the details but it will match up the veterans experience and qualifications. Simon, who served in the Navy, said that veterans have a record of performance under pressure and theyre quick learners.
I think that Wal-Mart has a tremendous opportunity to leverage operational skills that todays veterans bring, said Sean Collins, director of G.I. Jobs, a magazine and website that highlight employment, education and small business opportunities for veterans.