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Wal-Mart's low prices carry a high price tag here and abroad page 2
When you think about it, the price you pay at Wal-Mart isn't so low after all.

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Date published: 2/15/2004



Wal-Mart factories in Myanmar (Burma), Nicaragua, and the African countries of Lesotho and Malawi also employ workers who work long hours in unsafe conditions and earn less than what would provide a decent standard of living even in those economies.

In this country, federal agents last fall arrested some 300 illegal workers at U.S. Wal-Mart stores, including the one in Culpeper, who were brought in by subcontracted janitorial services.

If Wal-Mart can't keep an eye on its contractors here, how well can it do in China?

The business Web site Hoover's Online reports that Wal-Mart is the world's top retailer with 4,800 stores, three-quarters of them in this country. The company estimates that 93 million Americans shop at its stores. It also happens to be the top retailer in Canada and Mexico.

So things are looking rosy at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The firm had net income of more than $8 billion last year, up more than 20 percent from the year before. It had sales of $245 billion last year, 12 percent more than the year before. But with 1.4 million employees in 2003, it had only 1.2 percent more than the year before.

When you see those vests that ask, "How may I help you?" it should add, "I may be your last chance."

From a strictly business standpoint, the company's record of growth is unmatched. According to the specialized publication Chain Store Age, Wal-Mart plans to spend more than $12 billion on new-store construction in 2004, resulting in some 50 to 55 discount stores and 220 to 230 supercenters across America. About 140 of the new supercenters, which include full grocery stores, will be relocated or expanded units. That was the case with the new one at Central Park that replaced the old one on State Route 3 in Spotsylvania.

There's no denying the success of the Wal-Mart model, and no indication that the company will change what it considers a proven, successful formula. Why should it, when the Walton family is free to amass billions of dollars rather than reinvest it in its own workers or in foreign factories?

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