In our view
Beset with questions about low wages, buying habits and plant safety, Walmart has been under a great deal of scrutiny lately.
So it's no wonder that some critics regard Walmart's announcement last week that it intends to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years and move part-time employees to full-time as a public relations stunt.
To them we say: Not so fast.
Speaking at the annual retail industry convention in New York City, Walmart CEO Bill Simon said businesses do not have to wait for Washington to enact policies.
"The beauty of the private sector," he said, "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."
The plan to boost employment is especially good news for veterans whose unemployment rate is 10.8 percent -- a full 3 percent higher than the national average.
The nation's largest retailer said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and who has been honorably discharged within the first 12 months of active duty. The jobs would be available at Walmart stores, Sam's Club locations, distribution centers and at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Simon, who served in the U.S. Navy, characterized military personnel as "quick learners," and the company said it will attempt to match veterans' experience with specific jobs.
Simon also said Walmart also plans to spend $50 billion to buy American-made products -- a shift that is due to economics, not altruism. Walmart attributed the change to overseas labor conditions and ongoing transportation costs.
In recent years, Walmart has been seen as part of the problem, rather than as part of the solution. It's cost structure -- pejoratively referred to as the "China price" -- forced American companies to outsource manufacturing, and anecdotes about wages and work conditions here and abroad have given critics reason to be wary of Walmart's proposal.
But Simon makes a valid point: The private sector does not have to wait for government action to begin hiring, and most veterans are reliable, disciplined and focused on the tasks before them.
And first lady Michelle Obama, who has been at the forefront of a campaign to hire veterans, has reportedly expressed interest in working with Walmart on the project.
Is this a PR move? Possibly. But if the company follows through, it will have done more than talk the talk, it will have boosted U.S. employment as well as its own image.