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Wal-Mart: Struggling In Germany

With discounters already dominating the market, the American giant is in the unaccustomed role of pipsqueak

To American eyes, the new ethics manual is standard stuff. But when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT ) distributed the newly translated code to German employees a few weeks ago, it caused a furor. They read a caution against supervisor-employee relationships as a puritanical ban on interoffice romance, while a call to report improper behavior was taken as an invitation to rat on co-workers. "They have to communicate better," says Ulrich Dalibor, an official at the ver.di service-workers union, which represents German employees of the Bentonville (Arkansas)-based retailer.

No kidding. Seemingly surprised Wal-Mart officials said they have nothing against romance -- plenty of Wal-Mart co-workers have married, the company notes. And reporting lawbreaking is just good citizenship, it said. But to no avail.