May 6, 2012
This letter was originally published by The Wall Street Journal.
TO THE EDITOR:
Holman W. Jenkins Jr.’s ambivalent portrait of the Wal-Mart of Mexico bribery scandal in his April 25 Business World column “Wal-Mart Innocents Abroad” overlooks the fact that bribery is not a victimless crime. If the allegations are true, Wal-Mart was bribing local government bureaucrats to skirt environmental regulations, rewrite zoning laws and intentionally expand itself faster than any of its competitors could possibly, legally, match.
Such behavior has tangible harms. Environmental regulations exist for many reasons—to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community. If environmental laws were circumvented to build a new Wal-Mart supercenter too close to an important watershed, for example, drinking water could be contaminated and people could become sick or die.
Likewise, if zoning laws were illicitly rewritten to build a new Wal-Mart supercenter in a community previously zoned as a quiet, residential neighborhood, the property values would likely plummet.
While bribery is pervasive in Mexican society, it is very difficult for small businesses and local residents to escape paying up. They don’t carry the weight needed to change an entire society. However, a major company like Wal-Mart—with the promise of bringing thousands of jobs to local Mexican communities—has the leverage needed to say no to corruption and still conduct business. The company, apparently, chose not to do that.
Global Financial Integrity