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.