Wal-Mart to screen staff after alleged sex assaults

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The Independent Online

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer and the parent company of Asda, yesterday presented plans to start screening new American employees to check if they have a criminal record.

The supermarket giant has long resisted instigating the costly policy but opted to change tack in an attempt to avoid potential lawsuits from customers accusing its employees of sexual assault.

The background checks will start next month in the American Midwest. A spokesman refused to be drawn on the potential cost per employee but said estimates of$25 (£14) to $100 were significantly too high.

The change of heart comes weeks after the Arkansas-based retailer was sued after one of its employees allegedly fondled a young girl in a store in South Carolina. In 2000 a Wal-Mart employee was convicted for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. Both of the accused had criminal convictions for sexually related offences.

Sue Oliver, senior vice-president for human relations in the group's stores division, said: "We want to preserve the reputation [employees] have worked hard to build for themselves.We also believe this will add yet another level of comfort for our customers."

Wal-Mart employs 1.2 million people in the US. It expects to create 83,000 new jobs this year. About half of its "hourly" employees leave each year.

The group reported strengthening sales and earnings for the three months to end-July. Net income for the period rose to $2.7bn from £2.4bn the previous year, on net sales up $69.7bn, quelling concerns that the group had suffered from a weaker US retail environment.

Lee Scott, the chief executive, said: "I started this year with an optimistic view. I still feel the same way. Although I am concerned about high gasoline prices, I continue to believe that growth in employment and real income will lessen the impact."

Asda, the UK's second biggest supermarket group, said strong non-food sales helped like-for-like sales across the chain increase by 5 to 6 per cent during the second quarter. The UK chain helped boost sales from Wal-Mart's international division by 11.3 per cent to $70.5bn. Wal-Mart also owns businesses in Brazil, Canada, Puerto Rico and Argentina.