NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N said on Wednesday it was considering getting certified under a new international program that could help companies defend themselves against isolated cases of corruption or poor business practices.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed the so-called anti-corruption compliance program and Wal-Mart is hoping to be the first U.S. company to get certified under it, said Jay Jorgensen, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and global chief ethics and compliance officer.
“We have begun looking for a company that would certify us,” Jorgensen told the Thomson Reuters Financial and Risk Summit in New York.
The ISO is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards.
Jorgensen added that Wal-Mart was interested in seeing the program develop in the United States, with the government laying out its own anti-corruption compliance framework or adopting ISO standards to help protect companies that follow it and defend themselves if something goes wrong.
Jorgensen also shared a recent development in which federal agencies have contacted the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer about compliance programs.
“Over the past couple of months ... some of the federal agencies have reached out to say ‘hey do you have any feedback for us, anything we are doing is unreasonable?,’” Jorgensen said.
Wal-Mart has given feedback to federal agencies and will continue doing so and the company would also be open to speaking with state regulators about compliance, he said.
Jorgensen cited an example of how a broken baby shampoo bottle in California is treated as hazardous waste that retailers have to dispose off through an incinerator.
“We would love it if California would say ‘hey we would like some feedback,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen, who joined Wal-Mart in 2012, has been instrumental in revamping Wal-Mart’s compliance systems around the world and building a dedicated ethics and compliance team. That team has a staff of over 2,300, including over 500 in the United States and over 1,800 in international markets.
Since 2013, Wal-Mart has invested more than $141 million in global ethics and compliance systems, Jorgensen said.
More recently, Wal-Mart has created licensing teams that monitor the more than 56,000 licenses and permits Wal-Mart needs to operate in global markets using a centralized licensing system that reduces the error of wrongdoing and increases transparency, he said.
For the last four years, the Wal-Mart board’s compensation committee has conditioned a portion of its most senior executives’ compensation on making adequate progress toward annual compliance goals. In its latest compliance report, Wal-Mart said it has achieved over 200 of these board-level objectives, including over 60 that relate specifically to its anti-corruption program.
Wal-Mart’s ethics and compliance system came into focus after a New York Times report in 2012 found Wal-Mart had engaged in a multi-year bribery campaign to build its Wal-Mart de Mexico business.
This was followed by an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into potential misconduct by Wal-Mart, including violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in some overseas markets including China, Brazil, India and Mexico.
In October, Wal-Mart rebuffed a proposal by U.S. prosecutors to pay at least $600 million to settle a corruption probe into the company’s practices in markets including Mexico, India and China.
So far Wal-Mart has spent about $800 million on legal fees and an internal investigation into the alleged payments and to revamp its compliance systems around the world.
Reporting by Nandita Bose in New York; Editing by Tom Brown
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