New Orleans $24 million in bribes is not a onetime thing, a rounding error, or a mistake in judgment. It is evidence of company policy and a corporate culture. Walmart has proven that it is trying to buy its way into the Mexican marketplace one bribe at a time, many stores at a time.
James Stewart, a columnist for the Times, and several op-ed columnists for the Journal are already trying to warn us in one case and spin us in the other that we shouldn’t expect that there will be any REAL accountability at the level of top executives going to the dock and doing time in a Mexican or USA prison. Jail is something for blue-collar, no collar folks caught up short or Mexican workers trying to find jobs on the wrong side of the border. The message seems to be that with enough money and lawyers, everything is fair in love, war, and big companies.
Painfully, Stewart uses as his prime example Tyson Foods, another Springdale, Arkansas big-time corporation (and, no, this can’t just be about a special Springdale or Arkansan, thing!) that walked away from bribes around its chicken plants in Mexico with a $4 million fine. Reading about Tyson, which like Walmart, also had a charismatic, folksy founder and family and a long history of labor conflicts around unionization, there was too much déjà vu all over again. Maybe there is something in the Arkansas water after all. Maybe the license plate shouldn’t say Wonder State, but Who Me State?
Slowly the news from Mexico coming through ACORN International’s organizers in Mexico City is that some of the people and parties out of power are in fact forcing there to be some push to accountability there. President Calderon increasingly has been forced to pay attention and respond. This is an election season of sorts in Mexico with the PRI posed to make a comeback. Ironically, part of the economic push from the PRI seems to be increased foreign direct investment. They undoubtedly will have to make sure that there are guarantees that the Walmart bribery fiasco will not be part of the FDI package.
ACORN International’s annual staff and leadership meeting is scheduled for Mexico City in two weeks. We will be meeting with many people convened in San Miguel de Allende including those convened by the Center for Global Justice.
Walmart’s accountability and the demand for the full force of the law will be center state in all of these discussions.