Wal-Mart: Corporate Rap Sheet

Wal-Mart Stores

By Philip Mattera

If the average person were asked which large company most epitomizes corporate misconduct and lack of accountability, there is a good chance the response would be: Wal-Mart. (Or Walmart, to use the spelling the company now applies to its U.S. stores while retaining the hyphen in its corporate name). For more than two decades, the giant retailer has been at the center of controversies over its low wages, overtime pay abuses, meager employee benefits, gender discrimination, negative impact on small business, immense dealings with China, tax avoidance and much more.

The one way in which Wal-Mart has made some progress in improving its image is with regard to the environment, though critics charge that the company’s much vaunted commitment to sustainability is largely hype meant to deflect attention from its continuing retrograde practices in other fields. In 2012 the green initiatives were overshadowed by a scandal involving reports that top Wal-Mart executives sought to cover up a bribery scandal in its Mexican operations.

Facing growing competition from online merchants, especially Amazon, Wal-Mart announced in January 2016 that it would close 154 outlets in the United States and another 115 abroad, mainly in Brazil. 



While some have sought to romanticize founder Sam Walton and pin the blame for the company’s notorious labor policies on his successors, the exploitative approach was there from the start. As Bob Ortega points out in his 1998 book In Sam We Trust, Wal-Mart Sam Walton deliberately used superficial forms of paternalism to gain the loyalty of his workers while keeping labor costs at rock bottom. “We really didn’t do much for the clerks except pay them an hourly wage,” Walton wrote in his autobiography, “and I guess that wage was as little as we could get by with at the time.”

When Walton learned in the 1970s that some of his workers were talking about unionization, he did not try to address their concerns. Instead, Ortega notes, he brought in a union-busting consultant named John E. Tate, who devised the policy of uncompromising resistance that would characterize Wal-Mart’s labor relations posture for decades to follow. That applied not only at the company’s stores, but also at its large network of distribution centers. For example, after nearly 50 percent of workers at a warehouse in Searcy, Arkansas signed cards in support of Teamsters representation in the early 1980s, Tate and his staff used the run-up to the election to scare the workforce into ultimately voting more than three-to-one against the union.

This scenario would play out again and again, both in the United States and Canada. For example, in 1997 the Ontario Labor Relations Board ruled that Wal-Mart had violated Canadian law by intimidating workers in the period preceding a representation election involving the United Steelworkers union. As a result, the board certified the Steelworkers, even though a majority of workers had voted against the union. The company, however, simply refused to bargain with the union.

When Wal-Mart used the same intimidation tactics during a 1997 election at one of its stores in Wisconsin, the National Labor Relations Board criticized the company but did not take the same sort of action as its Ontario counterpart. Later in 1997, exasperated United Mine Workers officials decided to call off an organizing drive at a Wal-Mart in Fairfield, Alabama less than 24 hours before the representation was scheduled to take place.

In 2000 a small group of courageous meatcutters at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Jacksonville, Texas voted for representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Within two weeks, the company announced that it was shutting down the meatcutting operations at that store and at more than 175 more in six states. The NLRB later ruled that the company had violated federal labor law by refusing to discuss the closing with the workers who had chosen union representation, but the issue was by then moot.

In 2001 the UFCW said it was launching a national organizing drive at Wal-Mart, but it focused on a few areas such as Las Vegas, where it engaged in a fierce battle with a slew of anti-union specialists flown in from corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Years later, the NLRB found that the company had engaged in various unfair labor practices, but by then the organizing effort had fizzled out. Looking back on the situation, the Las Vegas Sun published an article headlined WAL-MART BREAKS THE LAW, GETS PUNISHED, WINS ANYWAY.

In 2005 Wal-Mart’s vice chairman, Thomas Coughlin resigned amid what the company said was a scandal involving expense account abuses. Yet Coughlin initially claimed that he was actually using the money to fund a secret project to fight unionization, including payments to informers.

While the UFCW largely turned away from individual store organizing in the United States, it continued the effort in Canada, on the assumption that the legal environment would be more conducive there. Yet Wal-Mart continued to run roughshod over Canadian law as well.

When workers at a Canadian store voted for representation, Wal-Mart simply refused to bargain with the union. If it was forced to do so, it turned to the same tactic it employed in Texas: shutting down the store or department where workers had asserted their desire for collective bargaining, pretending that the step was being taken for economic reasons.

After such a move in 2005 involving a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott defended the action in an interview with the Washington Post, saying that he “saw no upside to the higher labor costs” that union representation would have brought and that he “refused to cede ground to the union for the sake of being ‘altruistic.’” The company was later ordered by the Quebec labor relations board to stop intimidating workers at a store involved in an organizing drive, but the agency did not impose any significant penalties. The board subsequently rejected Wal-Mart’s claim it closed the store in Jonquiere for economic reasons.

After a small group of employees in the Tire & Lube Express department of a Wal-Mart outlet in Cranbrook, British Columbia voted in favor of representation by the UFCW in 2005, but the province’s labor relations board later ruled in support of the company’s contention that the department could not unionize apart from the rest of the store.

In 2008 a Quebec government arbitrator ordered Wal-Mart to abide by the terms of a union contract for employees of the automotive department of a store in Gatineau who had chosen to be represented by the UFCW three years earlier. Two months later, the company shut down the department.

Another Quebec arbitrator’s ruling in 2009 imposed a collective bargaining agreement at a Wal-Mart store in St-Hyacinthe four years after workers voted for union representation. Two years later, however, the union lost its accreditation.

Wal-Mart’s labor relations practices have been so egregious that they go beyond regulatory infractions and enter the realm of human rights abuses. It’s thus no surprise that Human Rights Watch, which typically analyzes atrocities in dictatorial governments, once published a report concluding Wal-Mart violated the right of its workers to freedom of association.

Critics charged that the company has also sought to impose its political views on employees. In 2008 labor advocates called for an investigation of reports that the company was holdings meetings with workers to warn of dire consequences if then-presidential candidate Barack Obama were to be elected. Members of the Federal Election Commission were split on whether to pursue the case, so the matter was dropped.

One place where Wal-Mart chose not to resist unions was in China, where such organizations have little autonomy and align themselves with the ruling Communist Party. In 2006 the company’s British subsidiary ASDA, faced with the possibility of a widespread strike, agreed to negotiate a contract with the GMB union at its distribution centers. After Wal-Mart succeeded in acquiring a majority stake in South Africa’s Massmart chain in 2011, it did not try to dislodge the union representing its workers. The unions called on the company to end its resistance to their counterparts in the United States and urged labor organizations representing Wal-Mart workers in other countries to develop a global strategy for dealing with the company. In 2012 the UNI labor federation announced the creation of the Walmart Global Union Alliance.

That same year, there was an upsurge in activism among Wal-Mart’s workers in the United States. It began with a walkout by workers at a Wal-Mart-contracted warehouse in Southern California over poor pay and benefits and high injury rates. In early October 2012, for the first time in the company’s history, there were walkouts at multiple stores as “associates” staged job actions to protest retaliation against individuals who had participated in organizing efforts promoted by a group called OUR Walmart, which was launched with support from the United Food and Commercial Workers, though it is technically not a union. The initial numbers involved were modest, but jobs actions soon spread around the country, including locations where the workers were not connected with OUR Walmart.

In November 2012, as reports circulated of planned job actions for the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor practice charge against the UFCW. But it was unable to prevent the protests.

The job actions continued in 2013, The company carried out selective firings and disciplinary actions against some of those who participated. In November 2013 the NLRB's Office of General Counsel determined that Wal-Mart had violated federal labor law by threatening workers with reprisals if they engaged in strikes and protests.

In late 2013 there was new controversy over the company's wage practices when a newspaper reported that employees at a Wal-Mart store in Ohio were being asked to contribute to a food drive to help hard-pressed co-workers.

In December 2014 an NLRB judge ruled that Wal-Mart managers in California had illegally disciplined workers for participating in wage protests.

In February 2015 Wal-Mart seemed to be responding to the wage protests when it announced an increase of its mimimum hourly pay to $9 ($10 by February 2016).

Suppliers. For the past two decades, Wal-Mart has also been embroiled in controversies regarding labor practices by its foreign suppliers. In 1992 media outlets such as NBC’s Dateline reported that some of the company’s Asian suppliers were making use of illegal child labor.

In 2005 the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against Wal-Mart in federal court in Los Angeles, charging that employees of the company’s suppliers in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Swaziland and Nicaragua were forced to work overtime without pay and in some cases were fired for supporting union organizing efforts. In 2006 a federal judge threw out the case, as did an appeals court in 2009.

At Wal-Mart’s 2011 annual meeting, institutional investors called on the company to monitor and disclose conditions in its supplier factories. In June 2012 Wal-Mart suspended one of its seafood suppliers in Louisiana after the National Guestworker Alliance exposed horrific conditions for immigrant employees of the company.

A November 2012 fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh that supplied Wal-Mart and other Western companies killed more than 100 workers, who had been locked in the facility by their bosses. The Wall Street Journal found that the factory managed to continue working for Wal-Mart despite third-part inspections that had raised concerns about fire safety.

Overtime and Work Breaks. In 1999 a federal court in Denver ruled that Wal-Mart illegally denied overtime pay to its pharmacists and ordered the company to provide back pay. Wal-Mart fought the ruling in the class-action case and mostly prevailed in the Court of Appeals.

In 2002 the federal jury in an overtime case brought by 400 current and former Wal-Mart employees in Oregon found that the company systematically forced its workers to put in unpaid extra hours.

In December 2005 a jury in California ruled that Wal-Mart should pay $172 million in damages to some 116,000 workers in the state for failing to provide meal breaks as required by state law. The company appealed the verdict but in 2009 agreed to pay a settlement of at least $77 million but as much as $152 million.

In October 2006 a jury in Philadelphia told Wal-Mart to pay $78 million to its current and former employees in Pennsylvania for not paying them when they worked through break periods and off the clock. The following year, the judge in the case added $62 million in liquidated damages. Wal-Mart appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court (which declined to hear the case). In 2016 it finally paid the plaintiffs $242 million, which included post-judgment interest.

In January 2007 the U.S. Labor Department announced that Wal-Mart would pay $33.5 million in back pay to more than 86,000 employees to resolve charges that the company violated federal overtime laws.

In August 2007 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $3.9 million in back pay to settle charges brought by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement concerning overtime pay.

In July 2008 a state judge in Minnesota ruled that Wal-Mart violated state laws on rest breaks and other pay matters more than two million times, threatening to impose fines that could have reached $2 billion. The company settled the case for $54 million.

In December 2008 Wal-Mart agreed to pay between $352 million and $640 million to settle much of its pending litigation over wage violations—63 federal and state cases in 42 states—in what was described as the largest settlement ever for such lawsuits.

In November 2009 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $85 million to settle a group of suits alleging that it required employees to work off the clock and denied them required meal and rest breaks.

In December 2009 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $40 million to settle allegations that it violated Massachusetts law requiring meal and rest breaks.

In May 2010 Wal-Mart agreed to pay up to $86 million to settle a class action lawsuit in California alleging that the company denied more than 230,000 employees pay for unused vacation or personal leave time upon their termination from the company.

In May 2012 the U.S. Labor Department announced that Wal-Mart would pay $4.8 million in back pay to settle a new case involving overtime violations.

In January 2017 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $60.8 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that workers in California were compelled to work off the clock.

In July 2020 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $8.7 million to settle a decade-old lawsuit over its refusal to pay overtime to employees working more than eight hours a day.

Hidden Taxpayer Costs. In addition to paying low wages, Wal-Mart has long been criticized for providing inadequate benefits to its employees. In 2003 the Wall Street Journal published an article describing the various ways in which the company kept its spending on health benefits as low as possible. This was explored in more detail in an AFL-CIO study that came out about the same time.

This evidence, combined with reports that the company was encouraging its workers to apply for Medicaid and other government social safety net programs, prompted critics to argue that Wal-Mart was in effect shifting some of its labor costs onto taxpayers. In 2004, the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce published a report estimating that the average Wal-Mart employee used federal safety net programs costing $2,103 per year.

Over the following few years, state governments were encouraged to reveal which employers accounted for the most enrollees (including dependents) in Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and other forms of taxpayer-funded health coverage. For those states that did disclose those lists, Wal-Mart was almost always at or near the top. Good Jobs First maintains a compilation of these disclosures.

Such controversies put Wal-Mart on the defensive but did not change its policies. In 2005 there were reports of an internal company memo discussing ways—including the use of more part-timers and pushing spouses off plans by raising premiums for family coverage—of holding down spending on healthcare coverage and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer’s reputation. These revelations prompted some states to consider “fair share” legislation requiring large companies to spend more on healthcare for its employees. Such a bill passed in Maryland but was struck down in federal court.

In 2007 Wal-Mart admitted that 10 percent of its employees had no health coverage and another 43 percent had coverage from a source other than the company. That same year, it was reported that Wal-Mart was encouraging other employers to adopt its approach of providing health benefits with high deductibles. Later in 2007, Wal-Mart began to offer health coverage that was somewhat less stingy, but in 2011 it rolled back some of those improvements.

An updated report by the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released in May 2013 estimated that the hidden taxpayer costs associated with a typical Wal-Mart supercenter could be as high as $1.7 million a year.

Child Labor. In January 2004 the New York Times disclosed that an internal audit performed three years earlier had warned Wal-Mart executives of widespread violations of child labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals. In February 2005 the company said it would pay $135,540 to settle federal charges that it violated child labor laws in Connecticut, Arkansas and New Hampshire. The agreement between the company and the Bush Administration Labor Department, which included a provision giving the company 15 days’ notice before future workplace inspections, was denounced by the Connecticut attorney general as a “sweetheart deal.” A November 2005 report by the Labor Department’s inspector general found that “significant concessions” had been made to the company in the agreement, part of which it said had been drafted by Wal-Mart lawyers, but no violation of law was found to have occurred.

Undocumented workers. In November 2003 a federal racketeering suit was filed against Wal-Mart by lawyers seeking to represent thousands of contract workers who cleaned company stores and were reported to be working seven days a week and not receiving overtime pay. The filing took place 18 days after federal agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states to round up about 250 janitors described as undocumented aliens. In March 2005 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal charges related to the use of undocumented workers to clean its stores. Documents later emerged suggesting that Wal-Mart executives knew that the company’s cleaning contractors were using undocumented immigrants.

Discrimination. In June 2001 a group of women working for Wal-Mart filed a federal sex discrimination suit against the company and asked for class-action certification status for an estimated 700,000 current and former female employees. In June 2004 the judge in the Dukes case certified a class of up to 1.6 million. Wal-Mart fought the certification all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2011 supported the company’s contention that the class certification was improper. A few months later, a narrower sex discrimination suit was filed against the company.

In 2009 Wal-Mart paid $17.5 million to settle a class action suit accusing it of discriminating against Africa-Americans in the recruitment and hiring of truck drivers for its private fleet.

In 2010 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that Wal-Mart would pay $11.7 million to settle charges of sex discrimination in its hiring practices at a distribution center in London, Kentucky.

In 2019 the company paid $5.2 million to resolve disability discrimination allegations brought by the EEOC. In 2020 it paid $14 million to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.

In 2020 the company agreed to pay $20 million, stop using a pre-employment test, and furnish other relief to settle a companywide, sex-based hiring discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employ­ment Opportunity Commission.

Corporate-Owned Life Insurance. Wal-Mart is one of the large companies that engaged in the controversial practice of secretly taking out life insurance on low-paid employees and making itself the beneficiary. The polite term for this is corporate-owned life insurance, though critics have labeled it “janitor’s insurance” or “dead peasant insurance.”

In 2004 Wal-Mart settled one case brought in Houston for an undisclosed amount. Two years later it agreed to pay $5.1 million for a class action brought by the estates of former employees in Oklahoma, and in 2011 the company agreed to pay just over $2 million in a class-action suit filed in Florida.

Workplace Safety. In August 2013 the U.S. Occupational Safety  & Health Administration announced that it had reached a corporate-wide agreement with Wal-Mart under which the company would pay $190,000 in penalties and improve its safety practices relating to trash compactors, cleaning chemicals and hazard communications.




As a retailer, Wal-Mart has a smaller direct impact on the environment than large industrial companies, but the giant retailer has been at the center of various environmental controversies nonetheless. For many years, critics pointed out that the company’s focus on suburban locations for its stores was a major contributor to sprawl and to air pollution, given that customers usually needed to drive to those outlets. Environmental impacts were often at the center of the site fights the company confronted in its relentless expansion process.

Wal-Mart was also singled out for its water quality violations. In May 2004 the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Wal-Mart would pay a $3.1 million civil penalty and take remedial action to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with storm water runoff from two dozen company construction sites in nine states. In August 2005, the company agreed to pay $1.15 million to the state of Connecticut to settle a suit alleging that it had allowed rain water to carry fertilizer, pesticides and other harmful substances stored outside its retail outlets into rivers and streams.

In 2004 Wal-Mart agreed to pay $400,000 to settle federal Clean Air Act violations related to the unauthorized sale of refrigerants containing ozone-depleting chemicals at its Sam’s Club outlets in eleven states. The company also had to deal with allegations of Clean Air Act violations by its huge fleet of trucks. In 2005 the company signed a consent decree with the EPA to resolve charges relating to diesel truck idling at its facilities.

In a move that critics charged was an effort to deflect attention from its controversial labor record, Wal-Mart began in the mid-2000s to paint itself as a champion of environmental protection and energy conversation. In 2005 it opened an experimental Supercenter outside Dallas that employed a host of cutting-edge energy systems. Later that year, Wal-Mart announced a sweeping program of energy-use reduction at all of its retail operations as well as efforts to get its suppliers, including the many located overseas, to observe higher environmental standards. The company subsequently moved heavily into organic foods, sustainable-certified seafood and even fair trade coffee.

All these measures had the effect, no doubt sought by Wal-Mart, of dividing its critics, with some environmentalists deciding to collaborate with the company on its green initiatives while others dismissed them as window dressing.

Wal-Mart intensified its campaign, with chief executive Lee Scott giving a highly publicized speech in January 2008 that reaffirmed the company’s green agenda, including its pressure on suppliers. Two months later, Scott acknowledged what many critics had charged—that Wal-Mart’s primary motivation was to use its environmental initiatives to cut costs and raise profits.

The company went on to stop selling baby bottles with the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), and it introduced a line of jewelry whose provenance was traceable online to assure customers that the gold and silver were mined in a sustainable fashion. (That mining, however, was being done by companies—Rio Tinto and Newmont Mining—whose records were not exactly untainted.) In July 2009 Wal-Mart introduced a system of environmental ratings for the products sold in its stores, though critics, including the Dirt Diggers Digest, found fault with the sustainability index.

The criticism continued in 2012 with the publication of Stacy Mitchell’s report Walmart’s Greenwash and a Mother Jones article revealing that many of the company’s Chinese suppliers were being less than diligent in adhering to the company’s green mandates.

In May 2013 Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act through dumping of hazardous waste and was fined $82 million.


Taxes and Subsidies

State income tax avoidance. In February 2007 the Wall Street Journal published a front-page story revealing that Wal-Mart was using a real estate gimmick to avoid paying many millions of dollars in state corporate income taxes each year.

It was doing this by putting many of its stores under the ownership of a real estate investment trust (REIT) controlled by the company. The stores would pay rent to the captive REIT and deduct those payments as a business expense. This trick, essentially paying rent to itself, reduced the company’s taxable income and thus lowered its state tax bill (the REIT was structured so its income wasn't taxed by any state). An April 2007 report by Citizens for Tax Justice estimated that Wal-Mart had thereby avoided some $2.3 billion in state income tax payments between 1999 and 2005–an average of more than $300 million a year.

The REIT gimmick was devised for Wal-Mart in the 1990s by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, which also sold the strategy to other companies, especially banks. For Wal-Mart it served as a substitute for a prior tax trick that states were challenging—the transfer of intellectual property such as trademarks to a captive entity in Delaware which charged the parent company for its use. Those payments were not taxable in Delaware.

Even before the Wall Street Journal article appeared, Wal-Mart’s captive REIT strategy was being challenged by the North Carolina Department of Revenue. The state required the company to pay an additional $33 million in taxes for a four-year period, prompting Wal-Mart to bring a lawsuit, which was rejected by both a Superior Court judge and the state court of appeals.

While pursing the North Carolina case, Wal-Mart ended up disclosing documents that provided a wealth of details on the company’s obsession with minimizing its state tax bills.  According to an October 2007 review of those documents in the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart had held meetings with Ernst & Young in what was called the “Tax Shelter Room” at its headquarters in Arkansas. The company unsuccessfully sought to have the court documents sealed.

North Carolina was not the only state that challenged Wal-Mart’s captive REIT scheme. States such as Wisconsin and Illinois disallowed many of the deductions and required the company to pay millions in additional taxes.

Local property taxes.  A 2007 report by Good Jobs First found that Wal-Mart has sought to reduce its local property tax payments by frequently and aggressively challenging the assessed value attached to its U.S. stores and distribution centers by local officials.  The report examined a 10 percent random sample of the stores and found that such challenges had been filed for about one-third of the outlets; an examination of all of the distribution centers found challenges at 40 percent of them, even though many of the latter had been granted property tax abatements when they were built.

Sales tax “skimming.” A 2008 report by Good Jobs First entitled Skimming the Sales Tax found that Wal-Mart was receiving an estimated $60 million a year as a result of the little-known practice in some states of compensating retailers for collecting sales taxes and calculating the amount of that compensation based on total sales. This, in addition to the estimated $130 million in sales-tax-based economic development subsidies, meant, according to the report, that Wal-Mart was keeping at least $73 million in state or local sales tax revenue each year.

Subsidies. Despite enjoying more than $400 billion in annual revenues and $13 billion in profits, Wal-Mart has repeatedly turned to U.S. taxpayers to help fund its expansion. The company is one of the most frequent recipients of economic development subsidies from state and local governments across the country—in the form of tax breaks, cash grants, infrastructure assistance, etc. 

In 2004 Good Jobs First issued the first detailed study of Wal-Mart’s use of these subsidies. Although centralized information was not available, it used local news reports and other sources to identify more than $1 billion in such public assistance. The report found that 92 percent of Wal-Mart’s distribution center had received subsidies, with individual packages ranging as high as $46 million.

In 2007, Good Jobs First updated its research, documenting an additional 39 subsidy deals worth more than $200 million, or roughly $60 million a year.  The old and the new data were combined in a searchable website called Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch.

Other. In November 2012 Wal-Mart announced that it would pay out its quarterly dividend in late December rather than in early January, as scheduled. The move was designed to allow shareholders to pay taxes on the income at the 2012 rate and thus avoid an increase set to take effect in 2013. The tax saving for the Walton Family was estimated at $180 million.



In December 2011 Wal-Mart disclosed that it had begun an internal investigation into whether some of its employees violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The revelation did not attract much attention at the time, but four months later the New York Times published an 8,000-word front-page exposé about moves by top management to thwart and ultimately shelve that investigation, which focused on extensive bribes paid by lower-level company officials as part of an effort to increase Wal-Mart’s market share in Mexico.

That story made a huge splash and reportedly undermined the company’s efforts to expand into major cities in the United States. A major public pension fund, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, sued the company for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the bribery scandal. It and other institutional investors showed their discontent with top management by opposing the official slate of directors at Wal-Mart’s annual meeting. About 12 percent of the shares outstanding were voted against the slate, an unprecedented level of dissent by the company’s previously quiescent shareholders.

In November 2012 Wal-Mart disclosed that its internal investigation of the bribery allegations had extended from Mexico to China, India and Brazil.

In December 2012 the New York Times published an investigation providing extensive new details about Wal-Mart's bribery activities in Mexico, including payoffs to get zoning changes.

In 2019 the company and its Brazilian subsidiary paid $137 million to the Justice Departmental to resolve an investigation into criminal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The subsidiary pleaded guilty while its parent company was offered a non-prosecution agreement. In a parallel civil case involving payments in Brazil, China, India and Mexico, the company paid $144 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission. 


Foreign Investment

In October 2012 the government of India began an investigation of whether Wal-Mart violated the country’s former restrictions on foreign investment in the retail sector when it invested in Bharti Retail prior to receiving permission to form a joint venture with the Indian company.


Other Information Sources

Violation Tracker summary page


Watchdog Groups and Campaigns

American Rights at Work

Food Chain Workers Alliance

Good Jobs First (including its Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch database)

Human Rights Watch

Institute for Local Self Reliance

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

International Labor Rights Forum

Making Change at Walmart

National Employment Law Project

Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart)


UNI Global Union and its Walmart Global Union Alliance

United Food and Commercial Workers

UC-Berkeley Labor Center

Warehouse Workers United


Key Books and Reports

A Downward Push: The Impact of Wal-Mart Stores on Retail Wages and Benefits by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education (December 2007).

A Handshake with Sam: Reaching Across the Wall of Wal-Mart by Wal-Mart Watch.

Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses by Stacy Mitchell (2006).

Chain of Greed: How Walmart’s Domestic Outsourcing Produces Everyday Low Wages and Poor Working Conditions for Warehouse Workers by the National Employment Law Project (June 2012).

Creating Hourly Careers: A New Vision for Wal-Mart and the Country by American Rights at Work (January 2011).

Discounting Rights: Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’ Right to Freedom of Association by Human Rights Watch (May 2007).

Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce (February 16, 2004).

Fighting for a Voice: Walmart Workers Speak Out Despite Systematic Labor Abuse by Erin Johansson of American Rights at Work (May 2013).

Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs: Use of Safety Net Programs by Wal-Mart Workers in California by the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center (2004). 

How Wal-Mart is Destroying America by Bill Quinn (2000).

In Sam We Trust by Bob Ortega (1998).

It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Truth About Wal-Mart’s Environmental Makeover by Wal-Mart Watch (September 2007).

New Research Shows Wal-Mart Rigs the System to Skip Out on $2.3 Billion in State Taxes by Citizens for Tax Justice (April 2007).

Richer Bosses, Poorer Workers: Bangalore's Garment Industry (SOMO, July 2009).

Rolling Back Property Tax Payments: How Wal-Mart Short-Changes Schools and Other Public Services by Challenging Its Property Tax Assessments by Philip Mattera et al. of Good Jobs First (October 2007).

Rough Cut: Sustainability Issues in the Coloured Gemstone Industry (SOMO, February 2010).

Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton (1992).

Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart by Liza Featherstone (2004).

Shameless: How Wal-Mart Bullies its Way into Communities Across America by Wal-Mart Watch (September 2005).

Shifting the Burden for Vital Public Services: Walmart’s Tax Avoidance Schemes by Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First (February 2011).

Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Its Never-Ending Growth by Philip Mattera and Anna Purinton of Good Jobs First (May 2004).

Skimming the Sales Tax: How Wal-Mart and other Big Retailers (Legally) Keep a Cut of the Taxes We Pay on Everyday Purchases by Philip Mattera and Leigh McIlvaine  of Good Jobs First (November 2008).

Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart by Al Norman (1999).

Subsidizing Wal-Mart: A Case Study of the College Grove Redevelopment Project by the Center on Policy Initiatives (2003).

The Bully of Bentonville: How the High Cost of Wal-Mart’s Everyday Low Prices is Hurting America by Anthony Bianco (2006).

The Case Against Wal-Mart by Al Norman (2004).

The Low-Wage Drag on Our Economy: Wal-Mart's Low Wages and their Effect on Taxpayers and Economic Growth by the Democratic Staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce (May 2013).

The United States of Wal-Mart by John Dicker (2005).

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman (2006).

The Wal-Mart Effect by Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute (June 2007).

To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise by Bethany Moreton (2009).

Wal-Mart: An Example of Why Workers Remain Uninsured and Underinsured by the AFL-CIO (October 2003).

Wal-Mart and Health Care—Condition: Critical by the Center for a Changing Workforce (January 2006).

Wal-Mart Special: Ohio Jobs Tax Credits to America ’s Richest Retailer by Policy Matters Ohio (2002).

Wal-Mart: Rolling Back Workers’ Wages, Rights, and the American Dream by American Rights at Work (November 2005).

Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First Century Capitalism edited by Nelson Lichtenstein (2006).

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price by Greg Spotts (2005).

Walmart’s Global Strategy: Undercutting Workers’ Rights by UNI Global Union (October 2012)

Walmart’s Global Track Record and the Implications for FDI in Multi-Brand Retail in India by UNI Global Union (March 2012).

Walmart’s Greenwash by Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (March 2012).

Wal-Mart’s Labor Problem: Limits to the Low-Road Business Model by Making Change at Walmart (October 2012).

Walmart's Small Business Impact by Georgia Avenue (Ward 4 Thrives and Respect DC, October 2014).


Last updated December 7, 2020