BREAKING: Walmart did another terrible thing!
The retail giant is not just the biggest employer in the U.S. — it also dominates Mexico with 2,275 outlets. And it got there by playing very, very dirty. According to the second part of a New York Times investigation, Walmart de Mexico routinely bribed officials not just to get its plans bumped to the top of the pile, but to “subvert democratic governance.” This is how the company successfully built a Walmart in a Teotihuacán alfalfa field a mile from ancient pyramids that draw tons of tourists. (Now those tourists get a view of a boxy Walmart supercenter when they climb to the top.) The local leaders said no, so Walmart de Mexico paid a guy $52,000 and redrew the zoning map itself.
Frankly, this is not very surprising. But it’s damning as hell. From the Times:
Thanks to eight bribe payments totaling $341,000, for example, Wal-Mart built a Sam’s Club in one of Mexico City’s most densely populated neighborhoods, near the Basílica de Guadalupe, without a construction license, or an environmental permit, or an urban impact assessment, or even a traffic permit. Thanks to nine bribe payments totaling $765,000, Wal-Mart 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.
But there is no better example of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s methods than its conquest of Mrs. Pineda’s alfalfa field. In Teotihuacán, The Times found that Wal-Mart de Mexico executives approved at least four different bribe payments — more than $200,000 in all — to build just a medium-size supermarket. Without those payoffs, records and interviews show, Wal-Mart almost surely would not have been allowed to build in Mrs. Pineda’s field.
The Times seems eager to point out that this is a Walmart problem, not a Mexico problem. These bribes were not, as Reuters puts it, “routine payments.” Except that in effect they actually were.
Walmart now says it’s all kinds of ready “to fully cooperate with the competent authorities in whatever investigation,” Fox helpfully reports (even though the company abandoned its own internal investigation years ago). Perhaps this is because it could be facing “sizable fines.”
This is both vindicating and infuriating, like most times Walmart gets caught doing something terrible. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice might be investigating, but they aren’t commenting on the story, at least not yet. Meanwhile, shares of Walmart’s stock rose 30 cents today.