Wal-Mart is addicted to Chinese take-out. The giant retailer is the largest importer of Chinese goods into America, and contributes greatly to our record balance of trade deficit with China. Sam Walton admitted that his company would take an American-made product, send it to the “Orient…and say, ‘See if you can make something like this.'” Walton called this practice “knee-jerk import buying.” The current CEO of Wal-Mart, Lee Scott, issued a press release this week in which he boasted that “Wal-Mart purchases goods from more than 68,000 U.S. suppliers and supports more than 3.5 million supplier jobs.” Scott said that in 2004, the company spent $137.5 billion with U.S. suppliers. But Chinese imports are now at least 10% of everything Wal-Mart buys, and growing rapidly. On the same day that Scott touted his American purchases, China’s business newspaper, The Standard, announced that Wal-Mart is completing construction on a 77,000 square meter “global procurement center” in Shenzhen, scheduled for opening in October of 2006. This global procurement center is where merchandise sourced in China will be concentrated before being shipped to Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the same story, The Standard indicated that a Sam’s club in Shenzhen was moving to a larger building, and would be four floors high, with the ground and second floor for shopping, and the top two floors for 499 cars. This is a prototype that Wal-Mart could be building in the U.S., but is not. Instead, it wastes thousands of acres every year by building horizontal, rather than vertical.
Wal-Mart should really be called Shenzhen Mart. The name would more accurately reflect where the company is going in terms of global procurement. Lee Scott also said in his press release that it was easy for him to empathize with his critics’ fears. “After all,” he said, “the economic change Wal-Mart represents creates a handful of losers even as the vast majority of ordinary Americans gain.” I would agree that Wal-Mart is changing America into an ordinary place, but the real “handful of losers” sit at the top of this ethically-challenged retail corporation in Bentonville, Arkansas.