Wal-Mart is America's largest private employer, running a chain of department stores. The company was founded by Sam Walton in Arkansas in 1962. Walton was a Christian and tried to make his store pro-family. The current Wal-Mart CEO is Lee Scott. Wal-Mart also owns the "Sam's Club" chain of wholesale stores and the "Asda" chain of superstores across the United Kingdom. It is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Wal-Mart is America's premier example of free market economics
- when Wal-Mart opens its supercenters -- variety plus grocery stores -- in a community, the average grocery prices in that community fall by 13 percent. Even the people who don't shop at Wal-Mart benefit from its presence. 
Wal-Mart is often the subject of criticism for allegedly paying low wages with insufficient health benefits and allegedly forcing "Mom and Pop" stores out of business. It was also criticized for supporting homosexuality and for not dispensing abortion inducing drugs at its pharmacies. The company's defenders reply that Wal-Mart tries to uphold a family value system and is a well-known provider of decent employment and affordable merchandise across America and the rest of the world. Wal-Mart's wages average significantly higher than minimum wage, which may explain why nearly 2 million people choose to work for Wal-Mart.
It has also been criticized for selling imports of products manufactured in China despite the fact that most other retailers also sell Chinese imports. Wal-Mart has asked Premiere Radio Networks not to air its commercials during The Rush Limbaugh Show.
Wal-Mart in the U.K.
Wal-Mart entered the U.K. in 1999 following its purchase of the Asda supermarket chain, taking over around 300 stores which remain under the Asda brand name. Wal-Mart's performance, however, has failed to meet Wall Street's expectations, and its 16% share of British grocery spending has not changed over the last eight years, partly because of the company's inability to pursue its usual expansion strategy of oversaturating markets. In the United States Wal-Mart has driven its growth by building massive superstores that dwarf all of a town's existing businesses combined and that are spaced relatively close together across a region. This strategy has enabled Wal-Mart to overwhelm local economies and force out tens of thousands of small businesses through over-development.
Wal-Mart has had more difficulty employing this tactic in the U.K. due to the legislation known as "Planning Policy Statement 6" (PPS6), which requires local governments to keep retail development in town centers and to limit retail development on the outskirts unless there is a clear, well-defined need. Wal-Mart has lobbied heavily for the removal of the "needs test".
In 2006 Asda-Wal-Mart were ordered to pay $1.66 million for breaking U.K. law by offering illegal inducements to workers to quit a trade union. Around 340 drivers and warehouse staff at a distribution depot in the north-east of England were offered a 10% pay rise if they left the union. The members rejected the offer. A court established that the legislation had been breached and the company was ordered to pay every worker at the depot almost $5000 each in compensation.
In December 2007 Asda-Wal Mart was one of several companies that were fined over $225 million after admitting that they fixed the price of milk, cheese and butter in a scandal estimated to have cost U.K. consumers about $526 million.
- Christian Science Monitor. Wal-Mart: world's largest company
- "Wal-Mart launches gay-friendly initiative" August 21, 2006
- Is Wal-Mart good for America?
- Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres Planning Portal. Accessed 22 January 2008
- Asda fined for trying to make workers quit union The Guardian, 11 February 2006. Accessed 22 January 2008
- Supermarkets fined for price fixing The Guardian, 8 December 2007. Accesed 22 January 2008