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Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is the world's largest retailer and the largest company in the United States. In the fiscal year ending January 31, 2001 Wal-Mart had $191 billion dollars in sales. It employs over 1 million people in the United States at 3,300 stores and operates 4,500 retail units in 10 countries: the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, China, Korea, Germany, and the United Kingdom (where it owns the ASDA chain of supermarkets).

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. The company is publicly traded at the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol WMT and has its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Wal-Mart operates large discount retail stores selling a broad range of products such as clothes[?], consumer electronics, drugs, outdoor[?] equipment, guns, toys, hardware, CDs and books. Its typical products are basic, mass-market equipment, rather than premium products stocked at specialist stores. Wal-Mart also operates Supercenters which include grocery supermarkets. SAM'S CLUB stores are also owned by Wal-Mart; these are retail stores open only to customers who pay a membership fee.

Wal-Mart's chief competitors as discount retailers include the Kmart Corporation and the Target Corporation.

Each Wal-Mart store has an employee, usually an elderly person, known as a "people greeter", whose primary responsibility is to welcome people to the store. One Wal-Mart training video encourages employees to think of themselves not as employees but as "associates" and their superiors as "servant leaders." The training video You've Picked a Great Place to Work promotes the "essential feeling of family for which Wal-Mart is so well-known." (Ehrenreich pp. 143-4) Employees start the work day with a gathering and the "Wal-Mart cheer".

Wal-Mart is financially successful by a number of measures. For example, Wal-Mart is now the #2 grocery chain in the United States, behind Kroger[?]. Different explanations have been offered for this success. Some stress the economies of scale Wal-Mart brings to manufacturing and logistics; the purchase of massive quantities of items from its suppliers, combined with a very efficient stock control system, help make operating costs lower than those of its competitors. (They are leaders in the field of vendor managed inventory[?] -- asking large suppliers to oversee stock control for a category and make recommendations to Walmart buyers. This reduces the overhead of having a large inventory control and buying department.) Some attribute Wal-Mart's success to the company's alleged tendency to sustain short-term losses through short-term aggressive pricing, in order to drive competitors out of business and increase market power. While such a practice may make good business sense, many observers find it unsavory; communities often organize campaigns opposing proposed new Wal-Mart stores.

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Criticism of Wal-Mart Activists in rural communities criticize Wal-Mart, saying it displaces locally owned stores and results in the community losing potential assets to the corporate headquarters. This is the same sort of economic issue which leads to tariffs at the international level. In short, Wal-Mart is viewed as an absentee landlord.

None of Wal-Mart's stores are unionized and ~33% of the employees are temporary (2002). The company is the target of persistent unionizing efforts, but has aggressively and sometimes illegally fought off all attempts. In 2000, the meat-cutting department of the Wal-Mart superstore in Jacksonville, Texas voted to unionize; two weeks later, Wal-Mart shut down all its meat-cutting operations. Wal-Mart's unionized grocery competitors such as Kroger[?] and Safeway[?] are at a disadvantage, as wages[?] at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at comparable companies. There is a high employee turnover rate; nevertheless many employees express satisfaction with the status quo. Employee Kathleen Baker[?] submitted a petition from 80 Wal-Mart employees which requested wage increases, she was then fired for "theft" of the company typewriter. Walton once argued that his company should be exempt from the minimum wage. (Palast -- pp. 121)

Wal-Mart is the most often sued corporate entity in the United States. The legal department of Wal-Mart has a reputation among personal injury lawyers for extremely aggressive legal tactics, and the corporation has been sanctioned by several courts for failing to respond properly to plaintiff discovery motions[?].

Wal-Mart managers have sometimes pressured employees to work "off-the-clock" after they have worked 40 hours in order that over-time pay may be avoided.

As of 2000, Wal-Mart, like many large American corporations with low-wage employees, screens potential hires through a drug test, in addition to a multiple choice personality test, which asks applicants to express their level of agreement with statements such as "rules have to be followed to the letter at all times." (Ehrenreich, p. 124)

Wal-Mart is also criticized for maintaining an atmosphere in which it might appear that they predominantly carry products "Made in America[?]", however, journalist Greg Palast reports that ~83% of Wal-Mart products are NOT made within the United States. Palast also reports that Chinese dissident Hongda Wu[?] discovered, in 1995, that Wal-Mart was contracting prison slave labor in Guandong Province[?]. Wu and Palast argue that numerous items at Wal-Mart are made by the Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army[?]. In Bangladesh, Palast reported that, in 1992, teenagers were working in "sweatshops" ~80 hours per week, at $0.14 per hour, for Wal-Mart contractor Beximco[?]. In 1994, Guatemalan Wendy Diaz[?] reported that, at the age of 13, she had been working for Wal-Mart at $0.30 per hour. (Palast pp. 119-120)

Product controversy In 1999, Wal-Mart announced that it would not stock the morning after pill in its 2,400 pharmacies.

Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton is a former lawyer for Wal-Mart.

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