Wal-Mart (Economics Report 2004)

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This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English ECONOMICS REPORT.

Discount stores sell goods at low prices. They succeed only if they sell a lot of goods and keep their costs low. One company has succeeded beyond imagination.

Wal-Mart is bigger than any competitor. It has more than 4,000 stores in the United States and nine other countries. It has more than one-million workers. It is America's largest private employer.

Wal-Mart reported sales of almost 260,000 million dollars last year. And profits? The company reported earnings of 9,000 million dollars last year.

Sam Walton recognized the power of low prices. He owned 15 stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma before he began Wal-Mart.

Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in 1962. He began to use computers to control the flow of goods. He reduced prices to levels no one thought possible.

By 1985, Sam Walton was the richest man in America. He added businesses like Sam's Club membership stores. And he opened more Wal-Mart stores.

Wal-Marts are big stores. They sell just about anything. Wal-Mart Supercenters are even bigger. They include a market full of food. Other food stores are worried. So are labor unions in that industry.

To keep labor costs low, Wal-Mart has worked hard to prevent its employees from joining a union. The company has faced legal actions over some of its employment activities.

And, last October (2003), federal immigration agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores. They arrested more than 200 night cleaning workers who were in the country illegally. Wal-Mart noted that an independent company employed them. But labor is not the only issue.

Recently, the Los Angeles City Council began to consider a possible ban on huge stores like Wal-Mart Supercenters. Critics say Wal-Marts ruin small businesses and replace them with low-paying jobs. Wal-Mart denies this happens. It says people save money which they can spend on other things.

Sam Walton died in 1992. He urged people to buy American products to save jobs and to control the trade deficit. Today many goods are made in China. Wal-Mart says it believes in buying American goods and is willing to pay more to offer them. But, it says, it cannot tell people what to buy.