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from The Great Debate:

What Beijing can learn from Wal-Mart

“So, how?”

The question, short for “So, how do you want to handle this?” is a common, subtle way to invite someone to offer you a bribe in Asia. A traffic cop pulls you over for running a yellow light. He’s at your passenger window, a leather strap covering his name tag. He tells you to follow him to the police station so he can process your $100 fine. “So, how?”

If you slip 10 dollars into his ticket book -- 20 dollars if you’re a foreigner -- he’ll close it, and you’ll both be on your way.

It’s small scale -- not like the graft that accompanied China’s high-speed rail system -- but it happens all the time in Asia’s developing countries: in traffic, at customs offices, while getting and keeping licenses of all sorts. Nowhere is the bribery problem more severe, and more relevant to the rest of the world, than in China. Three years ago, China's central bank reported that up to 18,000 officials have fled the country since the 1990s, taking some RMB 800 billion ($128 billion) with them. China lost almost $3 trillion in illicit financial outflows -- crooked officials and businesspeople moving their dirty money out of the country -- between 2000 and 2009, according to estimates by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, D.C. financial watchdog. Because China is the world’s largest exporter, bribery in manufacturing and food production -- and the related quality control issues -- is a global problem.

Wal-Mart is in the news this week for not paying bribes in China -- or at least, that’s the underlying premise in the retailer’s three-year-long struggle with Chinese authorities. On April 13 the Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government has fined Wal-Mart $9.8 million for infractions ranging from having the words “net weight” in a too-small font ($486) to botching the genus and species on an almond label ($2,323). China’s domestic companies rarely face such scrutiny.

from Breakingviews:

Wal-Mart puts collar on Cerberus price for Safeway

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By Robert Cyran
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Could Cerberus pay more for Safeway? Based on the 2007 A&P-Pathmark merger, synergies could be worth more than half the $9.4 billion that the private equity firm’s Albertsons supermarket is paying for its U.S. rival. In theory that leaves room for a higher offer. But competition from the likes of Wal-Mart means cost savings may need to go to shoppers, not investors.

from The Great Debate:

On minimum wage: Mind the Gap

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Just 24 hours after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25 would deal a “devastating blow to the very people that need help most,” Gap Inc. announced it would raise employees’ minimum pay to $10 per hour by next year.

In striking contrast to the alarms sounded by McConnell, Gap chief executive officer Glenn Murphy emphasized the benefits of this pay raise for the company’s lowest-paid workers. He described it as a “strategic investment to do more for our employees” -- one that  will help “attract and retain a skilled, enthusiastic and engaged workforce.”

from Stories I’d like to see:

Timing the capitol bloviators, the French as the tough guys, and Wal-Mart’s reputation

1. Timing the capitol bloviators:

Watching the spate of committee hearings on Capitol Hill related to the Obamacare launch debacle reminds me of a story -- or, rather, an ongoing type of coverage -- that I wish the Washington Post, Politico or even C-Span would do: Keep count of the percentage of time each senator or congressman talks versus the amount of time the witnesses, whose appearances are ostensibly the purpose of the hearings, get to talk.

A sub-tally might also be done of how much of the committee member’s time is spent even asking a question, as opposed to giving a speech.

from The Great Debate:

Can Western companies put an end to Bangladesh factory disasters?

On Wednesday, while a Bangladeshi survivor of last November’s Tazreen fire that killed 113 people was talking to a Seattle audience about the need for corporations to be held liable for safety violations, it happened again. That day, a factory housing dozens of garment manufacturers in Bangladesh collapsed outside of Dhaka. Since then the death toll has skyrocketed to more than 300 workers, with hundreds more still trapped in the rubble.

Could it be that the so-called convenience of economic globalization is collapsing, too?

from Stories I’d like to see:

A working legislature, post informant life and Wal-Mart’s guns

A legislature that works:

Maybe it’s because I live in New York and have to read all the time about what may be the world’s two most dysfunctional legislative bodies – in Albany and Washington. But I wish a reporter for a national news organization would try to find the country’s best state legislature. A place where Democrats and Republicans actually work together. A place where money isn’t everything, and where everything isn’t done at the 11th hour, or later, followed by an orgy of self-congratulation.

We’ve got 50 states. They can’t all be governed by lawmakers who embarrass their constituents. Which ones function well, and why? What conflict-of-interest, campaign-spending or other rules do they have that help keep things in line? What makes them different, and how can we export their success to the rest of our capitals?

from The Great Debate:

Why Republicans should pressure Wal-Mart

Some Republicans, like Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, are arguing that the GOP needs to move away from big business and become a more populist defender of the middle class. That is good advice, and one dramatic way for Jindal or other party leaders to turn over a new leaf would be to join the pressure campaign on Wal-Mart to raise wages for its 2.2 million workers – a campaign that led to protests at Wal-Mart stores nationwide on Black Friday. The protests were coordinated by a labor-backed group of Wal-Mart Associates that wants the company to pay a minimum of $13 an hour, among other demands.

Republican criticism of Wal-Mart is not as unthinkable as it might seem. While the right heaps praise on Wal-Mart for its cheap consumer goods, the company’s low-wage business model should be problematic for conservatives for several reasons.

from Alison Frankel:

How much should corporations admit to SEC, Justice Department?

Last April, as a follow-up to revelations that Wal-Mart had allegedly covered up bribes paid by its Mexican subsidiary, the great Corporate Counsel reporter Sue Reisinger ran a very surprising piece. Despite the scandal engulfing Wal-Mart, defense lawyers told Reisinger that the company may have made a strategically smart decision not to disclose the matter to the government. Smart? Really? Would Wal-Mart's alleged bribery have blown up into a public relations fiasco that cried out for governmental consequences if the company had quietly admitted the facts to the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Justice Department?

I figured Dodd-Frank's whistle-blower provisions would make corporate self-reporting even more of a no-brainer, since insiders now have not only a moral and legal incentive but also a powerful financial motive to alert the SEC when they suspect wrongdoing. According to BuckleySandler partner Thomas Sporkin, who until last June was chief of the SEC's Office of Market Intelligence, the commission receives 1.2 whistle-blower tips a day, on average. If I were a corporate official wondering whether to self-report, I'd assume that one of those tips was about my company and run to the feds before they came to me.

from Breakingviews:

Wal-Mart’s banking twist curls through many cracks

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By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wal-Mart and American Express have teamed up for a useful kind of financial innovation. The Bluebird card they unveiled on Monday targets Americans lacking access to many banking services. It may also tempt other customers with a model that’s neither credit nor typical debit. But with deposits uninsured, regulators will have to watch closely.

from India Insight:

A kirana of one’s own

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India's kiranas, or small general stores, fear that the country's decision to allow Wal-Mart and other foreign companies to invest in grocery stores and other kinds of retailers will hurt their businesses.

They should go to Bangalore and talk to Nandini. She might brighten their mood.

Nandini, who lives in Bangalore's Indiranagar neighbourhood, was at Aditya Birla Group's More retail store, eyeing the detergents when I interviewed her about the new rules on foreign direct investment, or FDI.

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