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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Boss defends Wal-Mart's record
Wal-Mart store front
Wal-Mart is the world's biggest retail operation
Lee Scott, chief executive of retail giant Wal-Mart, has defended his company's record in an interview with the BBC.

Wal-Mart, owner of the UK's Asda supermarket chain, has been accused of forcing small shops out of business, and of underpaying its staff.

It is also battling a high-profile gender bias lawsuit in the US.

About 1.6 million current and former female employees claim the firm paid them less than their male colleagues.

They also allege that they were passed over for promotion in favour of male employees.

Community impact

Mr Scott said Wal-Mart had got into difficulties because of the actions of some staff, but said the company had responded by improving its internal checks.

We hire people at what we believe are competitive rates
Lee Scott
"It is a fact that there are times when we do not do the right thing as individuals, and those exceptions create issues for this company," he told BBC business editor Jeff Randall.

"We as a company have continued to work on that, and I think ultimately we will be a better company because we've tightened up on the amount of exceptions that do exist," he said.

Mr Scott rejected claims that Wal-Mart harms the communities in which it opens its stores.

Critics claim that any new jobs it creates are outweighed by lay-offs at smaller businesses which find themselves unable to compete.

In the US, concerns over the local impact of Wal-Mart stores have recently triggered grass-roots resistance to its expansion.

In April, voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood vetoed proposals to build a Wal-Mart mega store by a majority of two-to-one.

Fair pay

But Mr Scott insisted that local communities benefit from Wal-Mart's arrival.

"Can you go to any community and find somebody who's been adversely impacted by a large retailer that's come to town? I bet you can," Mr Scott said.

"But on the other hand, in each of those communities you can find people who have grown their businesses. There is no evidence that we in fact kill off companies."

Mr Scott also rebuffed claims that the low prices offered to Wal-Mart's customers come at the expense of inadequate wages for its employees.

"We hire people at what we believe are competitive rates, actually higher rates than what the competition has," he said.

"Many of these jobs are in fact jobs that are people's entry into the workforce. Somebody who's unskilled, they have to go somewhere to learn how to work."

"I will not apologise for that. I think ultimately it's good not just for Wal-Mart stores, I think it's good for the United States of America."

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