NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and nation's largest private employer, 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.
The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., says it plans to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S. products over the next 10 years. According to data from Wal-Mart's suppliers, items that are made, sourced or grown in the U.S. account for about two-thirds of the company's spending on products for its U.S. business.
Wal-Mart also projects that it will hire more than 100,000 recently discharged veterans in the next five years. Honorably discharged veterans will have a "place to go," says Wal-Mart's Simon, according to prepared text supplied by the discounter. The hiring pledge, which will begin on Memorial Day, covers veterans within 12 months of leaving active duty. Most of the jobs will be in Wal-Mart's stores or its Sam's club locations. Some will be in the company's distribution centers.
"Let's be clear; hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make," Simon plans to say in his address to retailers gathered on the third day of the four-day National Retail Federation convention. "Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They're quick learners, and they're team players. These are leaders with discipline, training, and a passion for service. There is a seriousness and sense of purpose that the military instills, and we need it today more than ever."
Wal-Mart says it believes it is already the largest private employer of veterans in the country.
The company says that it has spoken to the White House about its commitment, and it said First Lady Michelle Obama's team has already expressed an interest in working with Wal-Mart and with the rest of the business community.
In the next several weeks, the White House will convene the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make significant commitments to train and employ American's returning veterans, according to Simon's prepared text.
Michelle Obama, who spearheaded a White House drive to encourage businesses to hire veterans, praised Wal-Mart's announcement, calling it "historic."
"We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," Mrs. Obama said in the statement. "Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."
Wal-Mart which also operates Sam's Clubs, employs more than 1.4 million workers in the U.S.
Simon was also set to announce at the retail convention that the company would help part-time workers transition to full-time status if they so desired.
"We will also bring more transparency to our scheduling system so part-time workers can choose more hours for themselves," Simon was to say.
The moves could help repair the company's image following allegations that its Mexico unit was handing out bribes to local officials to speed up getting building permits and gain other favors. According to emails recently released by lawmakers, CEO Mike Duke found out in 2005 about the bribes. Lawmakers say that contradicts earlier claims by the company that executives weren't aware of the bribes.
Allegations first surfaced in April that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement that company officials authorized the bribes. Wal-Mart has been working with government officials in the U.S. and Mexico on that investigation.