Has American manufacturing found a champion in the unlikeliest of quarters? Walmart, the world’s No. 1 retailer, has announced several major initiatives, including a plan to increase domestic sourcing of the products it sells. Speaking at the National Retail Federation’s annual BIG Show on Tuesday, Bill Simon, the company’s CEO, pledged to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over the next 10 years. Both Walmart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary will grow U.S. production on two fronts, according to Simon: by increasing what they buy here (in categories such as sporting goods, apparel, storage products, games, and paper products) and by shifting the production of items like textiles, furniture, and higher-end appliances onshore.
Walmart’s change in tack will surprise many of its detractors, who have pilloried the chain store for its foreign-product-sourcing, predatory business policies, lackluster environmental record, and unjust labor practices. After a factory fire killed at least 112 garment workers in Bangladesh in December, labor-rights campaigners accused Walmart of playing a lead role in blocking a proposal to have global retailers help their suppliers improve their electrical and fire safety.
Walmart’s detractors have pilloried the chain store for its foreign-product-sourcing, predatory business policies, and unjust labor practices.
Could the so-called “evil empire” really pull a 180? “At the heart of our national political conversation today is one issue: creating jobs to grow the economy,” said Simon. “We are meeting with our suppliers on domestic manufacturing and are making a strong commitment to move this forward.”
The Walmart chief also claimed that, contrary to popular conception, roughly two-thirds of the company’s spending involves items that are made, sourced, or grown in the United States. The retailer, he added, has appointed a senior team within the company to lead the effort to raise that number.
“We can do so much more by working in partnership—as an industry and with governments,” said Simon. “I’ve talked with a number of governors, including the incoming chair of the National Governors Association, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, about how governors and retailers and manufacturers can drive this issue together. Governors from both sides of the aisle are enthusiastic about getting their constituents back to work.”