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The Globe and Mail

Focus on 'integrity,' Wal-Mart workers told amid bribery probe

In this Feb. 20, 2012, file photo, customers walk into and out of a Wal-Mart store in Methuen, Mass.

Elise Amendola/AP

Top executives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made no mention of a Mexican bribery scandal at an employee pep rally on Wednesday, but asked their international workers to focus on "integrity" as a core value.

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 (U.S.) to help it grow quickly last decade and that Wal-Mart's top brass tried to cover it up.

The matter 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.

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Executives talked around the allegations in Mexico, the company's first and largest international market. They referenced integrity as one of the company's core values and underscored the importance of complying with local laws.

"It's doing the right thing, every single day," Wal-Mart President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke told international workers gathered at the University of Arkansas' Barnhill Arena.

Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart International, called on employees 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," Mr. McMillon said.

As the company expands in China, the world's fastest-growing major economy, it will focus on growing 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," he said.

Activist shareholders, including some of the largest U.S. public pension funds, have called for Mr. Duke and others to be ousted from the company's board of directors in the wake of the Mexico scandal. But such efforts have little chance of succeeding as the family of founder Sam Walton controls roughly half of Wal-Mart's shares and votes.

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More than 1,300 international employees traveled to northwest Arkansas for this week's events, which culminate in Friday's annual shareholders meeting.

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 Wal-Mart store on July 2, 1962.

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