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Wal-Mart promises to hire vets, buy American

Critic calls pledge a drop in the bucket for retailer

By Anne D'Innocenzio

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 9:38 p.m. MST

In this Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, photo, Wal-Mart employees Jon Christians and Lori Harris take job applications and answers questions during a job fair at the University of Illinois Springfield campus in Springfield, Ill. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and nation's largest private employer, said Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, it is making a pledge to boost its sourcing from domestic suppliers and hire more than 100,000 veterans. The plans were to be announced as part of an address by Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, at an annual retail industry convention in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Associated Press

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NEW YORK — Why wait on Washington when there's Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S., said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jumpstart 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 made bribes in Mexico and calls for better safety oversight after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies its clothes. But Wal-Mart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight what companies can contribute to the economy.

"We've developed a national paralysis that's driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something," Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, said Tuesday at an annual retail industry convention in New York. "The beauty of the private sector is that we don't 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 Wal-Mart makes to its hiring and buying practices garners lots of attention because of the company's massive size. With $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world; it employs 1.4 million workers in the U.S. But critics say the changes amount to a drop in the bucket for the behemoth, and they question whether Wal-Mart's 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, it's a very tiny scale that doesn't add up to much," said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a nonprofit research organization.

The centerpiece of Wal-Mart's plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have had a difficult time finding work after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Wal-Mart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months of active duty.

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