| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 11 A large portion of American
consumers now know about the "fiscal cliff" and a sizeable
number of them expect the debate over it to curb their holiday
spending, according to the chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores
In the week before last month's U.S. presidential election,
only 25 percent of its core U.S. shoppers knew what the term
"fiscal cliff" meant, CEO Mike Duke told a gathering on Tuesday
in New York.
"One week after the election it was up to 75 percent," said
Duke, adding that 15 percent of those customers said the debate
in Washington would affect what they spend for Christmas.
Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the United States and the
world, polls its shoppers regularly.
The latest poll could bode poorly for retailers like
Wal-Mart, which rely on the year-end holiday shopping season for
an outsized portion of their annual revenue.
The "fiscal cliff" refers to the automatic steep tax hikes
and spending cuts set for Jan. 1 that the White House and
members of Congress have been negotiating to avoid. Fears about
the cliff stand to weaken consumer spending, which accounts for
some two-thirds of U.S. economic activity and is already being
hurt by lingering unemployment.
Duke's appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations
attracted protesters, many of whom blasted the company's wages
and labor practices. Criticism has increased since a factory
fire in Bangladesh last month that killed 112 garment workers
making clothes to be sold by retailers including Wal-Mart.
Duke admitted that Wal-Mart still had work to do in terms of
enforcing its own standards and discipline on its global supply
chain and setting an example for others in the industry.
"It takes work every day. We will never be there
completely," Duke said.
Wal-Mart has done extensive work in Bangladesh, he said, to
improve the safety of factories. In 2010 he said Wal-Mart
stopped doing business with 94 factories that didn't meet the
company's standards and helped raise standards in 23 others.
Some 3,000 factories went through training, he said.
When asked if Wal-Mart's need for low retail prices and
profitability was at odds with safe working conditions, Duke
said there was no conflict.
"We will not buy from an unsafe factory. This is not a price
discussion," he said. "If a factory is not going to operate with
high standards then we would not purchase from that factory.
There's no discussion about pricing."
Duke was also asked about an investigation into allegations
of bribery being overseen by the audit committee of its board of
directors, which is working with U.S. authorities. He said he
did not know when it would end.
"I think these things are intended to be very, very
thoughtful, deliberate, well-done and very, very complete."
The company became the subject of a probe over potential
violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that
forbids bribing foreign officials, earlier this year after a New
York Times story alleged that its Mexican unit used a campaign
of bribery to grab market dominance.
Duke was responsible for the company's international
operations from 2005 to 2009.
The New York Times reported that a senior Wal-Mart lawyer
received an email from a former executive at the Mexican
division in September 2005 describing how the Mexican affiliate
had paid bribes to obtain permits to build stores in Mexico.
The paper said senior Wal-Mart officials stymied an internal
investigation into the alleged bribery, which involved suspect
payments worth $24 million.