Please re-read the Management Focus on p. 54: Did Walmart Violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? (listed below)
What should Walmart do? What would you do? Do some research and tell us what Walmart did after November 2012. Do you agree with their actions? Why or why not?
Did Walmart Violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?
In the early 2000s, Walmart wanted to build a new store in San Juan Teotihuacan, Mexico, barely a mile from ancient pyramids that drew tourists from around the world. The owner of the land was happy to sell to Walmart, but one thing stood in the way of a deal—the city’s new zoning laws. These prohibited commercial development in the historic area. Not to be denied, executives at the headquarters of Walmart de Mexico found a way around the problem: They paid a $52,000 bribe to a local official to redraw the zoning area so that the property Walmart wanted to purchase was placed outside the commercial-free zone. Walmart then went ahead and built the store, despite vigorous local opposition, opening it in late 2004.
A former lawyer for Walmart de Mexico subsequently contacted Walmart executives at the company’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. He told them that Walmart de Mexico routinely resorted to bribery, citing the altered zoning map as just one example. Alarmed, executives at Walmart started their own investigation. Faced with growing evidence of corruption in Mexico, top Walmart executives decided to engage in damage control, rather than coming clean. Walmart’s top lawyer shipped the case files back to Mexico and handed over responsibility for the investigation to the general council of Walmart de Mexico. This was an interesting choice as the very same general council was alleged to have authorized bribes. The general council quickly exonerated fellow Mexican executives, and the internal investigation was closed in 2006.
For several years nothing more happened; then, in April 2012, the New York Times published an article detailing bribery by Walmart. The Times cited the changed zoning map and several other examples of bribery by Walmart—for example, eight bribes totaling $341,000 enabled Walmart to build a Sam’s Club in one of Mexico City’s most densely populated neighborhoods without a construction license, or an environmental permit, or an urban impact assessment, or even a traffic permit. Similarly, thanks to nine bribe payments totaling $765,000, Walmart built a vast refrigerated distribution center in an environmentally fragile flood basin north of Mexico City, in an area where electricity was so scarce that many smaller developers were turned away.
Walmart responded to the New York Times article by ramping up a second internal investigation into bribery that it had initiated in 2011. By mid-2013 there were reportedly more than 300 outside lawyers working on the investigation, and it had cost more than $300 million in fees. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission both announced that they had started investigations into Walmart’s practices. In November 2012, Walmart reported that its own investigation into violations had extended beyond Mexico to include China and India. Among other things, it was looking into the allegations by the Times that top executives at Walmart, including former CEO Lee Scott Jr., had deliberately squashed earlier investigations.
Sources: David Barstow, “Vast Mexican Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart after Top Level Struggle,” The New York Times, April 21, 2012; Stephanie Clifford and David Barstow, “Wal-Mart Inquiry Reflects Alarm on Corruption,” The New York Times, November 15, 2012; Nathan Vardi, “Why Justice Department Could Hit Wal-Mart Hard over Mexican Bribery Allegations,” Forbes, April 22, 2012.
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