After reading the New York Time’s excellent reporting on Wal-Mart’s pervasive bribery of foreign officials (Mexico in this case, but it’s hardly isolated to them), I remembered reading stories last year, including this excellent piece by Dan Froomkin, about how the Chamber of Commerce and major corporations were quietly but persistently lobbying Congress to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
The FCPA, passed in cooperation with over 30 countries concerned about corruption of their own officials, as well as foreign corporations, made it a crime for US corporations to launder money and bride foreign officials. But earlier this year the Chamber and it’s mega-corporate lobbyists complained the Act was too stringent, too broad, and too vague. The underlying message, however, was that everybody does it and it’s just not fair to hamstring American companies trying to compete in a global market. And besides, enforcing it used up too many resources that our Justice Department and FBI should be using on more egregious conduct, . . . like prosecuting banks and mortgage services for massive fraud.
Everyone should read the Times’ reporting of Walmart’s pervasive criminal conduct. The basics are that at a time when Wal-Mart was aggressively expanding into Mexico, a senior executive for Wal-Mart’s Mexican operations blew the whistle on a pervasive corporate scheme of bribing Mexican state and local officials to secure permits, concessions and other benefits to allow Walmart to expand rapidly throughout Mexico. The executive reported his findings to a company attorney, who launched an investigation. But when their investigation/findings were reported up to the CEO and Chief Counsel, the company heads squashed the investigation and orchestrated a massive coverup that reached all the way into Walmart’s corporate headquarters in the US.
And the coverup is continuing. Indeed, only when the Times told Wal-Mart they were about to expose the coverup did Walmart ask the Justice Department to investigate, as though they just heard about this.
Bottom line, there are probably dozens of senior officials at the top of Walmart who should be subjected to criminal investigations and immediately suspended from duties while the investigation proceeds. If that were to happen, in due course many may wind up being tried for serious crimes that, upon conviction, should put a lot of Wal-Mart officials in jail. And who knows what happens to Wal-Mart?
So, wondering what the Chamber of Commerce might have said about this sort of thing, I began my typically inept Googling, and the first thing I found is this NYT story with a quote from the Chamber of Commerce, dated May 11, 1928 — yeah, 1928:
The United States Chamber of Commerce today denounced all those who indulge in commercial and political corruption,” declaring that they should be purged from the ranks of American business, and that “the moral turpitude of corrupters of public servants” is even greater than that of “those whom they debauch.”
The Chamber’s action came in a resolution supporting demands made yesterday by Judge Edwin B. Parker, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and followed closely on the heels of the announcements of John D. Rockefeller Jr. that he had called for the resignation of Robert W. Stewart as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana.
“American business is jealous of its good name, insists upon protecting its professional status by the maintenance of the highest standards, and intends scrupulously to discharge its collective responsibilities. Chief among such responsibilities is that of purging business of all those who indulge in commercial and political corruption, and through resort to unclean and unworthy practice bring business into disrepute and shock the sensibilities of all decent citizens. . . .
“The Chamber emphasizes its principle of business conduct, which provides that ‘corporate forms do not absolve from or alter the moral obligations of individuals.’ It maintains that stockholders of corporations owe it to themselves, to the Government and to the profession of business publicly to repudiate those who misrepresent them. Such stockholders cannot accept the profit flowing from corruption and escape the moral stigma which inheres in such profits. Neither can they permit those who act for them to profit personally thorough corrupt corporate transactions or shield others when they do.”
Given the egregiously corrupt practices reportedly carried out by senior and/or the highest officials at Wal-Mart, I assume the Chamber of Commerce and other representatives of America’s corporate elite will now publicly shame the corporate heads of Wal-Mart, demand they be purged to protect the good name of the business community, and devise some means to rebate ill-gotten profits to the Mexican people.
With equal probability, I’m also expecting the United States Attorney General to announce a real, comprehensive investigation of Wal-Mart — because they just read about this — and all other reports of corporate bribery in violation of the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act. Because if they don’t, they’re just part of the coverup and they, too, should be purged. And I want a pony, too.