Really pays Walmart 11 hours

Welcome to the wonderful world of Wal-Mart

Fog wafts over the stage. The hall is dark, all the headlights are on the man wearing a suit covered with stars. He tears his arms wide apart and shouts "I am a star". While people behind him dance with shopping carts, Star explains to the audience in rhyme form that he is not just a "star", but the star from the brand logo of the American retail chain Wal-Mart. But Star isn't just there to warble, he has an important mission: to reconcile two falling out Wal-Mart employees.

Patti, an aging store manager, is unhappy with her young warehouse worker Dennis. The boy seems really unmotivated to her. Dennis in turn accuses Patti of not taking care of the needs of the employees. The fronts are hardened, but there are stars. He takes them on a fantasy journey through the wonderful Wal-Mart world. After 90 minutes, Patti and Dennis are happily in each other's arms. Thousands of people clap thunderous applause.

Welcome to the bizarre Wal-Mart family. The US retail group has invited to its annual general meeting in the basketball stadium in Fayetteville, a small town in the state of Arkansas, a few kilometers from the no less provincial headquarters in Bentonville.

Wal-Mart is a superlative company. Annual sales of $ 312 billion make the company not only the world's largest retailer, but also the second largest company in the world after the US oil company Exxon. If Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank 23rd between Austria and Indonesia in the gross domestic product ranking. In itself, Wal-Mart is China's fifth largest trading partner and thus buys more goods from the Asian country than Germany. With 1.8 million employees, Wal-Mart is the world's largest employer. In 15 countries, a total of 175 million people shop in one of the 6,577 stores every week.

But Wal-Mart is also one of the most criticized companies in the American economy. Almost every day there are demonstrations somewhere in America against the way the company deals with employees. Economists and trade unionists also accuse Wal-Mart of abusing its market power.

Nobody in Fayetteville wants to know about that today. Guests from all over the world have come to celebrate themselves. The spectacle has little in common with a conventional general meeting. Instead of stock market analysts, shareholder advocates and shareholders in ties and collars, 16,000 employees fill the stadium. They wear national soccer jerseys, have their flags painted on their cheeks, wield rattles, wave flags, drum, clap and whistle. 52 Germans are also there. Wal-Mart has its most motivated and loyal employees flown in from every country in 15 countries around the world. They are not called employees in Wal-Mart parlance, but "Associates", in German: Partners.

It is only eight o'clock in the morning, but after an hour and a half of a self-promotional musical, the atmosphere is as exuberant as at an international football match. An employee from New Hampshire is even allowed to sing the American national anthem in a heartbreakingly crooked manner. Then Mike Duke steps onto the stage at a run. The 56-year-old is responsible for the 2,688 branches abroad at Wal-Mart. "Give me a W," he yells at the crowd. 16,000 throats roar "W" back as if it were for their lives. "Give me an A." "A", "Give me an L." "L" and so on. "What does that mean," asks Duke. "Wal-Mart" shouts the crowd. "Who's number one?" is the last question. The answer in unison: "The customer".

The battle cry is the first thing a new Wal-Mart employee must learn. Every day before the start of work, the "Associates" gather for the morning roll call, regardless of whether they work in Cologne, Tokyo or Dallas. This motivational choir was invented by Sam Walton, who founded the group in Bentonville in 1962. Before his death in 1992, he was the richest man in the United States. To this day, "Mr. Sam" is revered like a folk hero by the staff. When his picture appeared on the screen at the annual general meeting, many viewers began to cry.

Walton came from a humble background and was a penny pincher until his death who drove around in an old rusty pickup truck. Nor did he indulge his managers in luxury. Even today board members have to share hotel rooms on business trips. There are no company cars, and neither are business class flights. The full extent of the frenzy can be seen in a visit to the "Home Office" in Bentonville. In the three-story, windowless, brick-built building, one might suspect a gymnasium from the 1970s, but certainly not the headquarters of a billion-dollar company. It doesn't look any better inside: the PVC floor has expired, the walls are gray, the ceilings are low. The 400 employees have to find space in endless rows in tiny work cells that are separated by shoulder-high walls. Even Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's office is the size and charm of a closet.

"Mr. Sam" is omnipresent in the headquarters. Not only is he buried with his dog Old Roy in the cemetery next to the backyard, a photo of the founder hangs on almost every wall. In the entrance area, "Sam's ten rules for building a business" are emblazoned on an almost ten meter long board. Rule number nine is no coincidence: "Control your expenses."

In contrast to rule nine, rule two no longer seems to apply today. "Share the profits with your employees," wrote Walton in the 1950s. Even if the euphoric employees give a different impression at the annual general meeting, the group is increasingly coming under fire in the USA. It exploits its employees, pays starvation wages and pushes competitors out of the market with dumping prices, according to the accusations of the unions.

While Wal-Mart pays collective wages in other countries like Germany, a US employee earns only 9.68 an hour, which is $ 2.60 less than the US average. The average Wal-Mart employee gets $ 17,600 a year. The poverty line is $ 19,157.

Last year alone, there were more than 40 class actions in 30 states for unpaid overtime. It wasn't until December that a US court fined Wal-Mart $ 172 million for refusing to take lunch breaks. In Germany they even wanted to forbid employees from relationships with one another.

The group is also on the defensive when it comes to health care. No other US company has so many employees who depend on government aid. It is true that CEO Scott launched a health plan in the fall that gives employees health insurance from Wal-Mart for as little as eleven dollars a month. The example of Dana Razaie from Minneapolis shows that reform is of little use in practice. The 51 year old widow and mother of three children has been working as a warehouse worker for five years. Although she makes far more than the average employee at $ 11.69, she can't afford health insurance. Because the policies have a deductible of $ 1,000. "I live hand to mouth every month," she says. "Lee Scott is lying when he says Wal-Mart treats its people well."

Scott himself - an annual salary of $ 10.46 million - sees it differently, of course. The 57-year-old has been running the group since 2000. At the annual general meeting he steps on the stage and shouts: "You are the heart of this company." While union officials demonstrate in front of the arena, the crowds cheer him inside. "Wal-Mart has good jobs," says Scott. How else can one explain the fact that 25,000 people applied for 325 positions in a new branch in Chicago? What's more, Wal-Mart saves every US household more than $ 2,300 annually with its unbeatably low prices. That is what the Global Insight Institute found out. However, Wal-Mart self-funded the study.