Rumors have been buzzing that Wal-Mart’s Mexico division has been built on a solid foundation of corruption. The New York Times this week confirmed a lot of the speaking out of school in a devastating piece accusing Wal-Mart of a full-on bribery business strategy.
To anyone who has spent significant time in Mexico, this cannot come as a surprise. Similarly, few people who follow Wal-Mart’s business practices in the United States will be shocked by underhanded behavior from the world’s largest retailer. The perfect storm of officials ripe for supplements to their meager salaries, a labyrinth of red tape, a confusing federal system, and an American retailer that takes no prisoners in its quest to the lowest price, this was bound to happen. But corruption is really the least of Wal-Mart’s sins in Mexico.
The accusations that bribery in Teotihuacan spat in the face of one of the country’s most sacred cultural sites are bad. But Wal-Mart has long been damaging Mexico’s cultural heritage in far more insidious ways, from fundamentally reshaping the power of local suppliers to forcing foreign cultural habits through imports and shutting out the small farmers that sustain the country’s remarkable crop diversity.
Yes, globalization came to Mexico in a big way via NAFTA, and not Wal-Mart, and the effects of this shift are still a source of debate among academics and ordinary Mexicans. But the smaller, more damaging trends wrought by the mega-retailer run far deeper than zoning laws or payoffs to get around impact studies.