Wal-Mart’s rapid growth in Mexico was a success story: a company that within a short period of time became the main employer in the neighboring country. In reality, the story appears different. One of corruption and bribery.
Wal-Mart quickly established a major presence in Mexico, with 2,100 stores and almost 200,000 employees. This presence was achieved by bribing mayors, city council members, bureaucrats and other officials involved in issuing permits to open stores.
This isn’t the first time an American company bribes foreign officials to get a leg up on its competitors. As a result, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was put in place. This law makes it a crime for U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign officials.
A few years ago, there were suspicions inside Wal-Mart of irregularities in its Mexican subsidiary. An internal investigation led to a cover-up instead of bringing the findings to light.
Until now, in foreign bribery cases, U.S. officials have depended on cooperation from the company involved and its internal investigation. In Wal-Mart’s case, they must redefine this approach, since the company concealed the alleged crimes. Officials must bring the full weight of the law to bear on the individuals involved in the bribery and those who protected them.
On the other hand, there are two corrupt parties involved in bribery: the one giving the money and the one taking it. Foreign executives bribed to promote the company’s expansion, while Mexican officials took the money to line their pockets.
Public officials, who in total received $24 million, agreed to betray those who elected them and the interests of the public they were supposed to protect.
The U.S. investigation should identify them. The Mexican government should take steps to punish them.
It is immoral to justify corrupt individuals by saying it’s the way to do business in Mexico. Those who say this in the United States seek to excuse criminal behavior; the ones saying it in Mexico display a resigned tolerance to a cancer that is attacking Mexican society.
This is an opportunity to firmly show on both sides of the border that this behavior is unacceptable. It’s a chance for both governments to work together. Otherwise, corrupt individuals will have won once again.