Holiday Woes for Walmart?

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Holiday Woes for Walmart?

By PG Staff - 11/19/2012

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. enters the most crucial selling season of the year, with expectations for its biggest Cyber Monday ever, the mega-retailer is contending with two major headaches: workers who are reportedly planning to stage a walkout to coincide with Black Friday, and a widening of its external investigation of bribery allegations from Mexico to include Brazil, China and India.

According to published reports, the walkout is a continuation of a work action that started last month at a Walmart in Los Angeles and spread to locations in 12 other cities. Union-supported organizations OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, along with watchdog group Corporate Action Network, are demanding that the mega-retailer stop what they describe as retaliation against associates who request higher salaries, fair schedules and affordable health care. The organizations anticipate 1,000 Black Friday protests, both at stores and online.

Strike organizers are mobilizing employees via Facebook, YouTube Twitter and Tumblr, as well as using online platforms to solicit donations to sponsor striking workers. So far, the campaign has garnered more than $22,200.

Despite the fact that during an earnings call last week, Walmart CFO Charles Holley said he was “not aware of any major disruptions that are going to happen Black Friday,” in what has been interpreted as a pre-emptive strike, the company filed a complaint the same day against the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

Further, more than 30,000 people have signed an online petition asking Walmart not to make its employees work on Thanksgiving. The petition was started by a 24-year associate of the company. Walmart opened its stores at 10 p.m. last year and intends to open them at 8 p.m. this year.

Additionally, late last week, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company revealed that it had widened its probe related to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) accusations. The original review of its policies, practices and internal controls related to compliance with the act began in March 2011.

“Since the implementation of the global review and the enhanced anti-corruption compliance programs, the company has identified or been made aware of additional allegations regarding potential violations of the FCPA,” said David Tovar, VP, Walmart corporate communications. “When allegations are reported or identified, we, together with our third-party advisors, conduct inquiries and when warranted, we open investigations.”

Continued Tovar: “We have inquiries or investigations regarding allegations of potential FCPA violations in a number of foreign markets where we operate regarding FCPA allegations, including, but not limited to, Brazil, China and India. This is in addition to the ongoing investigation in Mexico.” He declined comment on specific allegations in any of the countries where the probe was proceeding.

Tovar further noted that Walmart had spent more than $35 million on worldwide FCPA compliance measures over the past 18 months.

The New York Times reported last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department had also opened investigations into the Mexico allegations, and Walmart responded that it was cooperating with government officials.

Progressive Grocer will continue to monitor ongoing developments in both stories.