NEW YORK — Why wait on Washington when there’s Walmart?
Walmart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the United States with 1.4 million workers, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish US 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 Walmart tries to bolster its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the United States, 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. Walmart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight that companies don’t have to wait for lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to fix the economy.
‘‘We’ve developed a national paralysis that’s driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something,’’ Bill Simon,chief executive of Walmart’s US 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 that Walmart makes to its hiring and buying practices garner lots of attention because of its size.
But critics say the changes amount to a drop in the bucket for the behemoth, and they question whether Walmart’s initiatives will have a major impact on the US economy.
‘We’ve developed a national paralysis . . . waiting for someone else to do something.’
‘‘America’s largest retailers play an important role in our nation’s economy and in the well-being of millions of lives,’’ said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. ‘‘Retailers like Walmart could provide the nation with a much needed economic boost by paying higher wages and providing stable scheduling — while still remaining profitable and continuing to offer low prices.’’
The centerpiece of Walmart’s plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of who have had a particularly difficult time finding work after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December, compared with the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
Walmart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months off active duty.
Dave Tovar, a Walmart spokesman, said Walmart hasn’t worked out the details but it will ‘‘match up the veterans’ experience and qualifications.’’ Simon, who served in the Navy, said that veterans have ‘‘a record of performance under pressure’’ and ‘‘they’re quick learners.’’