Walmart Bribes Spur Growth In Mexico

Teotihuacan. Source: Mixcoatl (CC)

While Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films and its many allies called out Walmart for its unscrupulous business practices years ago in the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, the mainstream media has generally held up the mega-retailer as an example of American business at its best. That makes this lengthy investigation by the New York Times into Walmart’s endemic corruption all the more welcome. For disinfonauts who are interested in ancient civilizations, note that the latest site to suffer at the hands of the crooks of Bentonville is Teotihuacan, Mexico:

Wal-Mart longed to build in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field. It was an ideal location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from its ancient pyramids, which draw tourists from around the world. With its usual precision, Wal-Mart calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field.

One major obstacle stood in Wal-Mart’s way.

After years of study, the town’s elected leaders had just approved a new zoning map. The leaders wanted to limit growth near the pyramids, and they considered the town’s main entrance too congested already. As a result, the 2003 zoning map prohibited commercial development on Mrs. Pineda’s field, seemingly dooming Wal-Mart’s hopes.

But 30 miles away in Mexico City, at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico, executives were not about to be thwarted by an unfavorable zoning decision. Instead, records and interviews show, they decided to undo the damage with one well-placed $52,000 bribe.

The plan was simple. The zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper. So Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show. Sure enough, when the map was published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store.

Problem solved.

Wal-Mart de Mexico broke ground months later, provoking fierce opposition. Protesters decried the very idea of a Wal-Mart so close to a cultural treasure. They contended the town’s traditional public markets would be decimated, its traffic mess made worse. Months of hunger strikes and sit-ins consumed Mexico’s news media. Yet for all the scrutiny, the story of the altered map remained a secret. The store opened for Christmas 2004, affirming Wal-Mart’s emerging dominance in Mexico.

The secret held even after a former Wal-Mart de Mexico lawyer contacted Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Ark., and told them how Wal-Mart de Mexico routinely resorted to bribery…

It’s well worth reading the whole article in the New York Times. Once you’ve done that, you may be interested to check out Walmart’s response, including this PR video:

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    ” . . . the mainstream media has generally held up the mega-retailer as an example of American business at its best.”

    Not an encouraging thought, but what if this IS American business at its best?

  • SuperSerial

    You think this bribe was done by some middle manager? No way! The order had to come straight from the top!

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Yeah–they wring the sweat off their suppliers’ balls to get costs down in the U.S., but they somehow fail to notice millions of missing dollars in a brand new foreign venture? Bullsh*t.

    • Anarchy Pony

      You think those at the top actually had any kind of problem with it?

  • emperorreagan

    Wal-Mart has been extremely successful at what all monster businesses do best:

    Putting money in the hands of the right people, whether you want to call it bribery or political donations.

    Externalizing as much cost as possible (e.g. blatantly telling employees how to get on Medicaid instead of offering benefits).

    Engaging in monopolistic business practices with its suppliers – a manufacturer that supplies Wal-Mart is independent in name only.

    Wal-Mart hasn’t done anything innovative or interesting – they’ve engaged in the same age-old combination of unethical & illegal business practices that a functional government would step in and squash as being detrimental to society. They’ve just done it at a scale that would make the robber barons of the 20s jealous – tons of profits and you don’t have to produce anything at all.

    • Anarchy Pony

      The most successful middle men of all time.

  • InfvoCuernos

    and you can pretty much bank on the fact that locals can not compete in the marketplace with Walmart. As devastating to the local “mom- and- pop” economy as WalMart is in the US, I bet it’ll be like the atomic bomb for “mama- y- padre” biz in Mexico. Small business owners in Mexico are barely hanging on as it is, with these assholes fucking shit up, they don’t stand a chance.

  • BuzzCoastin

    in the US
    outright bribery is rare (except for politicians)
    instead it’s done with “travel & entertainment” budgets

    back in the day, I used to spend about $200K a year in T&E expenses
    in order to sell around $20 million worth of stuff (that’s .01% of sales)

    by today’s standards
    Walmart’s $52K bribe is paltry

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