retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, commenting on a story about all the companies ensnared in foreign bribery investigations, with many of them complaining that it is not entirely clear what bribery is, I wrote:

I'm reminded of the blind guy back in the seventies who was once appointed to be in charge of censorship for a local town. (A quaint notion, huh?) Asked how he would be able to tell if something was pornographic, he responded, "I know porn when I feel it."

This story may be apocryphal. But I thought of it when people say that they don't know what is bribery and what isn't. Really?

Ultimately, Walmart's biggest problem is going to be the cover-up, not the actual bribery. It is going to be executives who allowed people to investigate their own divisions, who prevented investigations from going forward, and who covered up results when they came to light.

At a personal level, I just get tired of companies and people who are holier-than-thou, and then engage in illegal activities. That kind of selective ethics - whether practiced by business executives, politicians or religious leaders - represent the worst kind of hypocrisy and arrogance. At least IMHO.

One MNB user responded:

I thought of slotting allowances!

From another MNB user:

While the charges against Walmart in Mexico, and now many other companies, are disturbing, they are not surprising.

I have personal knowledge that similar bribes need to be paid in China. Only one manufacturer (a naturalized Chinese person) ever revealed this to me, yet I assume it’s true on a broad scale. It’s the “when in Rome” syndrome, and it doesn’t make these countries very appetizing. Just an observation; I have no solutions!

MNB user Keith Green wrote:

Two of your pieces Wednesday had a common denominator that resonated with me. In your …Bribery Prosecution Net story you said, “This story may be apocryphal. But I thought of it when people say that they don't know what is bribery and what isn't. Really?”. Then, In your Totally Predictable Story of the Day you talked about the gift cards that Wal-Mart gave to the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Is there really a difference between paying government officials in Mexico a bribe for some very specific help you need with a license or a permit and paying U.S. government officials a bribe to have a generally helpful attitude towards you when federal laws are being penned and voted on? If the DNCC can’t be considered “government officials”, I would say they are at least playing the role of “gestores”. To quote you again, “…I thought of it when people say that they don't know what is bribery and what isn't. Really?”.

MNB user Brian Sullenger wrote:

What is the difference between what Wal-Mart is doing in Mexico and any other company is going here in the United States.  When Wal-Mart or Target wants to grow into the inner cities of New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis or Las Vegas, the cities block them from moving in.  Eventually, they "contribute" money to the right persons re-election campaign or build a park or what ever and the "City" has a change of heart.  Every company that tries to grow/stay in business and every city/government organization would be guilty of "Bribery."  We need to clean our own house before we try to clean up the outside.  That is the worst kind of hypocrisy and arrogance, IMHO.

We also had a story yesterday about how, since the “state of California agreed to allow it to delay collecting state sales taxes for one year, has announced that it will build some two million square feet of warehouse space in the state, with one in San Bernardino and another in Patterson."

Which led one reader to write:

Is that a bribe?  Happens all the time, but basically it’s offering a financial incentive which gets favorable treatment in return...

And another wrote:

So what's the difference between bribery and an agreement to delay collecting state taxes for one year?

Another MNB user wrote:

I agree, the actual cover-up to me is more disturbing. Fess-up, you got caught, by your own people. Admit you screwed up, fix the issue and move on. If all American companies would follow the law, wouldn’t that put pressure on Mexican authorities to find a different way of doing business. Probably naive on my part and the reason I am not in charge of figuring out how to do business in Mexico.

If the point here is that people and companies use money in a lot of different ways to influence how other people act and vote and govern, then you won't get an argument from me. Sure, money can be an utterly corrupting influence ... at home and abroad.

Was "donating" $50,000 in gift cards to the Democratic convention a kind of bribery? I'm not sure if it meets the technical definition, but it certainly was designed to buy positive feelings, access, and maybe even a few votes down the road. No surprise here that the Democrats decided to turn them down, though I suspect a much bigger headache for the party will be holding a convention in a state that has voted to ban same-sex marriage on the same week that the head of the Democratic party came out in support of it.

Was the California tax situation a bribe? Sure, money was involved, so maybe it meets the standard ... though some might argue that the new warehouses will create a lot of jobs, so it really was a quid pro quo.

Look, I was schooled by Jesuits. The word "ought" was very important in the ethics classes that I took ... as in, we do what we ought to do, and we try to make things as they ought to be. It isn't that hard to know the difference between what is right and wrong. Doing it sometimes is hard, but knowing it? That's the easy part.

Thanks to all of you who thought that my idea for a "Mannix"-themed commercial for the new Dodge Dart was a good idea. (If anyone knows anybody at Dodge or its ad agency, feel free to pass the idea along.)

I'm also thrilled that so many of you remember "Mannix," which was my favorite TV series growing up. (BTW...if you were going to cast the movie, wouldn't George Clooney be a terrific Joe Mannix?)
KC's View: