NEW YORK – Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Tuesday it will buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over the next decade in such areas as sporting goods and high-end appliances in a bid to help boost the U.S. economy.
Wal-Mart, the largest private employer and retailer in the United States, also said it plans to hire 100,000 new veterans over the next five years, at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate remains well over 7 percent.
The moves are likely to receive a cool reception from critics who claim Wal-Mart does not pay its workers enough and should be taken to task for selling too many goods made overseas in lower-cost countries such as China.
Issues such as last year's deadly fire at a factory in Bangladesh that was making clothing for retailers including Wal-Mart have also brought ethical sourcing into the spotlight.
Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon laid out the plan at the National Retail Federation's (NRF) annual conference in New York.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is not a member of the NRF, a major industry trade association that has promoted the importance of retail jobs in the United States. The NRF asserts that 25 percent of American jobs are supported by the retail industry.
Walmart U.S. says about two-thirds of the goods it buys to sell in its stores are made, sourced from or grown in the United States, citing data from its suppliers.
Last year, 55 percent of Walmart U.S. sales came from groceries like food and drinks as well as health and beauty products, household goods such as paper towels, and pet supplies. Many of the items are typically bought locally by retailers.
Only 7 percent of Walmart U.S. sales were of apparel, jewelry and accessories, which retailers typically get from lower-cost countries.
The company's Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club warehouse chain will increase what they already buy in the United States in categories like sporting goods, basic apparel, storage containers, games and paper products. Wal-Mart added that it would help to lift U.S. production in areas like textiles, furniture and higher-end appliances.
Last week, Walmart U.S. told its employees that Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president in the home business, will lead the new focus on U.S. sourcing and manufacturing. Greg Hall, a vice president of Walmart.com, is set to become a vice president reporting to Gloeckler. No replacement was announced for Hall's e-commerce role.
JOBS FOR VETERANS
Walmart U.S. also said that starting on Memorial Day in May, it plans to hire 100,000 U.S. veterans over five years, a move supported by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Veterans' issues are a personal topic for Simon, who served 25 years in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves.
Depending on the time of year, there are 15,000 to 50,000 job postings at Walmart. The company said it promotes about 170,000 people each year to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay. About 75 percent of its store management started as hourly associates, and now earn an average of $50,000 to $170,000 a year. The highest earning store manager last year made more than $250,000.
Wal-Mart has repeatedly claimed its pay and benefits are in the top half of the retail industry.
Some jobs are low paying, including individuals in their first jobs, Simon said. Starting wages for Walmart U.S. store employees vary by market.
Simon noted that in his first job as a dishwasher in a restaurant, he made $2.10 an hour. Years later, he became the senior vice president of global business development at restaurant company Brinker International Inc, which he left in 2006 to join Wal-Mart.
Walmart U.S. also said it would give part-time workers the first shot at full-time positions. It also plans to make scheduling more transparent, giving part-time workers the ability to choose more of their own hours.
Sales for Walmart U.S. rose 1.5 percent to $264.19 billion in fiscal 2012, which ended in February 2012, and accounted for 59.5 percent of the company's total sales.
The unit is still by far Wal-Mart's largest business, but its percentage as a part of the company's overall sales has fallen from 62.1 percent in 2011 and 64.2 percent in 2010 as Walmart International and Sam's Club have grown their sales at a faster pace.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)