Walmart held its annual shareholder meeting, facing investors for the first time since the New York Times blew the lid off an executive-level scandal at the company, involving the bribing of Mexican officals.
In preparation, the company also addressed a gathering of thousands of workers, including 1,300 international ones. Instead of addressing the scandal directly, the Wall Street Journal reports, CEO Mike Duke called for "keeping" integrity Walmart's highest priority.
Duke, who has been asked to step down from his post by activist pension funds and proxy firms, preached integrity to the crowd.
"Football, soccer, cricket, the one thing that's always important is playing by the rules," Duke said, according to the journal report.
Shelly Banjo of the Journal continues:
International division chief Doug McMillon emphasized that despite pressure to grow, employees and management needed to comply with government laws even "when no one is watching."
"Is this clear?" he shouted sternly to the arena filled with workers.
The executives' grandstanding reeks of hypocrisy, according to critics including Kevin Coupe of MorningNewsBeat.com:
If I were a Walmart shareholder - or an employee, or business partner - I think I'd be less concerned with unethical behavior in the ranks than I would be with such transgressions at the highest levels of the company. They can make it sound like rogue employees wandering around Mexico handing out bribes, but the Times story suggested that the bribery was both systemic and systematic, and that they were covered up in Bentonville. That's what top execs will have to answer for . . . . There are those at Walmart who would like people to think that all the ethical transgressions took place south of the border, but to me, that seems unlikely.