* Wal-Mart international executives cheer on employees
* Talk of Mexico bribery scandal largely avoided
* Wal-Mart shares end day 0.4 pct lower at $65.44
By Jessica Wohl
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., May 30 Top executives of
Wal-Mart Stores Inc did not directly mention a Mexican
bribery scandal at an employee pep rally on Wednesday, but asked
their international workers to focus on "integrity" as a core
The world's largest retailer has been under fire from
shareholders and activists after the New York Times reported in
April that management at Wal-Mart de Mexico, or
Walmex, allegedly orchestrated bribes of $24 million to help it
grow quickly last decade and that Wal-Mart's top brass tried to
cover it up.
Chief Executive Mike Duke was among the senior Wal-Mart
executives allegedly aware of the situation, according to the
Times. He is now a main target of disgruntled shareholders, who
would like to see him and others removed from the board.
Wal-Mart has repeatedly said that it would not comment on
the specific allegations until investigations are completed.
Executives on Wednesday sidestepped specific mention of the
allegations in Mexico, the company's first and largest
international market. They referenced integrity as one of the
core values at a company where employees cannot even accept a
free cup of coffee from a vendor. They also underscored the
importance of complying with local laws and told employees to
report any possible wrongdoing.
"It's doing the right thing, every single day," Duke told
international workers gathered at the University of Arkansas'
His comments on Wednesday echoed remarks he made on
Wal-Mart's recorded earnings call on May 17, when he said that
"acting with integrity is the essence of our corporate culture."
Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart International,
said it was up to every employee - from new associates to top
executives - to guard the company's principles.
"If you see something in your business that you don't think
is right, you need to say something," McMillon said.
Scot Rank, president and CEO, Walmart Mexico and Central
America, may have come the closest to directly commenting on the
allegations, without specifically mentioning bribery.
"Over the years we have faced difficult and challenging
times in Mexico and Central America. These events have united us
even more, they have motivated us to continue, to continue
pursuing excellence, and work with respect and integrity," Rank
said at the end of the Mexico and Central America unit's
Wal-Mart shares, which have more than rebounded from the
8.2 percent drop in the days following the New York Times Mexico
story, are trading near all-time highs. The stock ended 0.4
percent lower at $65.44 on Wednesday.
'WE HAVE TO BE COMPLIANT'
Wal-Mart's focus in China, the world's fastest-growing major
economy, will be on expanding the right way, said Scott Price,
president and CEO of Walmart Asia.
"We have to be compliant, we have to follow every rule,
every regulation in the country," Price said.
Shareholders, including some of the largest U.S. public
pension funds, have called for Duke, former Wal-Mart Stores CEO
Lee Scott, Chairman Robson "Rob" Walton and others to be ousted
from the company's board in the wake of the Mexico scandal. But
such efforts have little chance of succeeding because the family
of founder Sam Walton controls roughly half of Wal-Mart's shares
"They need to step down so we can restore the trust in
Wal-Mart," said Angela Williamson, who said she was fired by
Walmart U.S. three weeks ago after missing work at a Florida
store due to her own illness and needing time to take care of a
sick family member.
Williamson, who is not a shareholder, is in Arkansas trying
to convince employees with company stock to vote their shares
against directors believed to be involved in the Mexico scandal.
The bribery issue is being investigated by a number of
government agencies in Mexico and the U.S. Department of Justice
and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Wal-Mart is
also conducting an internal probe.
More than 1,300 international employees traveled to
northwest Arkansas for this week's events, which culminate in
Friday's annual shareholders meeting. The
largest international group came from Massmart, the
South Africa-based retailer Wal-Mart acquired last year.
During Wednesday's meeting, as in previous years, a
selection of top international employees were given "Integrity
in Action" awards.
Integrity has been proclaimed as part of the Wal-Mart way of
doing business for some time. In a memo entitled "Integrity"
sent to employees on April 23, two days after the Times report
first ran, Duke said: "We will do what's right - not just what
is legal - and our actions will show the utmost integrity at all
Despite the bribery allegations, this year's celebration is
still expected to be an upbeat affair. Wal-Mart is marking 50
years since Walton opened the first Walmart store on July 2,
1962, and at Wednesday's meeting representatives from Chile
played a video of employees in that country singing "Happy