Yesterday Wal-Mart had what Judith Viorst would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” The folksy retailer with the heartland twang, which is known for “always low prices,” as well as the nation’s lowest-paid corporate workforce, the destruction of the small towns whose values it pretends to champion, and, just last week, shooting an alleged shoplifter to death in its Houston parking lot, was the subject of an in-depth report on its corrupt practices in Mexico in yesterday’s New York Times. In addition, after early reports that it would pull the “Bushmaster Sporting Rifle” from its shelves, the company announced “we have made no changes in the assortment of guns we sell in our stores.” Lack of demand caused Wal-Mart to stop selling guns in most stores in 2006, but the sagging retail market brought them back five years later. Wal-Mart is now the largest gun seller in the country. As for Mexico, The Times spent months tracking down obscure leads as its reporters methodically unmasked systematic corruption. This wasn’t about having to do business in a shady world, the paper reported. “Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance – public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.”
Wal-Mart likes to sell itself as the quintessentially American company. It’s scary to think it might be right.