Please forgive the mixed tenses in the title but I have been thinking about what the Wal-Mart anti-corruption matter might mean at the end of the day.
This has been interesting commentary about where the Wal-Mart FCPA corruption scandal may be heading. There was one side, led by the New York Times and it Pulitzer Prize winning reporting that the company engaged in bribery and corruption in Mexico. There was another side, led by the Wall Street Journal, which said basically there was no substantive evidence of bribery and corruption turned up around the company’s Mexico operations, although there were perhaps other countries where the company might have some issues, such as India.
There is also a category of nay-sayers around the amount of money the company has spent on its internal investigation and bringing its compliance program into the 21st century. There is yet another school of commentary, which says that Wal-Mart should be the poster child for enhancement of the compliance function and compliance programs in an organization.
Many are now wondering what will happen with Wal-Mart in connection with any Justice Department FCPA enforcement action. Will the hammer come down on Wal-Mart by the US government? Will the monies spent by Wal-Mart in investigation and remediation pay off in reducing any fine or penalty? Or was this all much ado about nothing and no one but the Wall Street Journal and its supporters got it right?
While all of these are certainly interesting questions, I think there is another way to think about what Wal-Mart will wrought no matter what any of these answers are going forward. Wal-Mart has certainly raised the consciousness around compliance and elevated the discussion beyond where the profession was prior to April, 2012. The monies the company has spent certainly demonstrate what happens when you have to play catch up with your compliance program, while under the light of the Fourth Estate and a government investigation.
Yet from where I sit Wal-Mart has been quite public about the steps it has taken to become a leader in anti-corruption compliance across the globe. Top Wal-Mart compliance and ethics (yes the company created an ethics function) officers have spoken at several conferences since 2012 about the company’s experience. Wal-Mart has published annual Global Compliance Report about the steps it has taken in its compliance program. Perhaps these steps will be the Wal-Mart legacy.