In a burst of patriotic activity, Walmart on Tuesday announced that it would hire any veteran who wanted a job, provided that the veteran had left the military in the last year with an honorable discharge. Furthermore, the retail behemoth launched a new initiative to purchase an additional $50 billion in American-made goods over the next 10 years, part of an effort to push back against criticism that the company relies too heavily on many foreign-made products.
Walmart says its new employment program is the largest-ever corporate commitment to hiring veterans. The company expects to bring on as many as 100,000 veterans over the next five years. The initiative has been embraced by First Lady Michelle Obama, who along with Jill Biden runs the White House's Joining Forces program, which focuses on finding work for unemployed veterans. "We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," Obama said in a statement. "Walmart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."
Veteran unemployment is a big problem. The jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans, while declining, was at 10.8 percent in December, significantly higher than the national rate of 7.8 percent. Walmart, the nation's largest employer, had stood out for its support of ex-servicemen even before the latest announcement; of the company's 1.4 million employees in the U.S., a full 100,000 are reportedly veterans.
William Simon — the president and chief executive Walmart's U.S. operations, and a Navy veteran himself — noted on Tuesday that the company isn't launching the program merely out of the goodness of its heart. "Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make," he told an industry gathering of retailers in New York City. "They 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."
The hiring program, which is scheduled to begin on Memorial Day, is also a welcome bit of self-generated publicity for Walmart, which has recently come under scrutiny over labor disputes. Employees in late 2012 banded together to stage protests on Black Friday, complaining that Walmart paid poverty-level wages. In addition, Walmart was one of several American companies recently accused of shady outsourcing practices, after a factory that made Walmart clothes in Bangladesh burned to the ground in December, killing 112 people.