retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Bloomberg reports that a government panel in Bangladesh has concluded that the fatal fire at a garment factory that made clothing for US retailers that included Walmart was the result of sabotage, and that there was no possibility that it took place because of an electrical short circuit.

The fire killed more than 100 people. The cause of the fire does not seem to change the fact that poor safety standards apparently made it difficult for workers to escape the blaze.

The union representing the workers is questioning the panel's conclusion, saying that calling it sabotage makes it possible for the government and factory owners to implicate the workers in the tragedy and avoid responsibility for its occurrence.

• The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Walmart has removed from its website a listing for a Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine M4A3 Rifle, a semi-automatic assault rifle described as being similar to the one used in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Walmart says that the gun could never be bought online, but only was available from selected stores. It would not comment on why the website listing was removed, and the Journal notes that the gun was still available at some bricks-and-mortar Walmart stores.

Walmart is the nation's largest seller of guns and ammunition.

The Journal writes: "Wal-Mart has been criticized in the past by gun-control groups who say it makes weapons too easily accessible. But its work with those groups has prompted criticism from gun-rights groups including the National Rifle Association.

"Wal-Mart hasn’t sold handguns at its stores since the early 1990s, when it discontinued them except for special orders in Alaska. Seven years ago, the Bentonville, Ark., retailer stopped selling hunting rifles, shotguns and related ammunition at all but a third of its approximately 3,500 supercenter and smaller discount stores, citing diminishing sales.

"It voluntarily agreed to adopt stricter gun-sales policies in 2008 as part of a pact with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"But Wal-Mart quietly began expanding sales of rifles, shotguns and ammunition to hundreds of its stores about two years ago, after its overall U.S. sales slumped."
KC's View:
As the Journal correctly notes in its story, companies like Walmart may have to adjust to a changing reality when it comes to gun sales in the US. The wanton slaughter of six and seven year old children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School may be a kind of tipping point when it comes to debate and discussion about Second Amendment rights.

It has the potential of affecting a lot of companies. For example, the New York Times writes this morning that "the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management said on Tuesday that it would sell its investment in the gunmaker Freedom Group in response to the school shootings last week in Connecticut. Cerberus acquired Bushmaster — the manufacturer of the rifle used by the gunman in the Newtown attacks that killed 27 people, including 20 schoolchildren — in 2006," and then "merged it with other gun companies to create Freedom Group."

And I'm also hearing that a number of teachers unions and pension funds will be getting out of any investments in companies that make or sell guns.

There may be a cultural and political shift happening, and companies are going to have to pay attention.