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by Emily Yang

April 25, 2012

New York City elected officials, community leaders and advocates gathered in front of City Hall yesterday to speak out against Wal-Mart's operation of business in the city. This comes after The New York Times reported last Sunday that the world's largest retailer stopped an internal investigation into allegations of $24 million in bribes that helped expand its Mexican branches.

Though there has been much opposition in the past to Wal-Mart operating business in the city because of its potential threat to union workers and small businesses, resistance has strengthened in light of the scandal in Mexico.

Matt Ryan, executive director of a labor rights advocacy group called ALIGN: the Alliance for Greater New York, urged local and federal leaders to conduct an investigation into Wal-Mart's political and charitable spending and for the retailer to withdraw its interest in the city.

"This is a company that will stop at nothing to increase their bottom-line and get into New York City," Ryan said. "Until we can be sure Wal-Mart isn't gaming the system, they're done here."

If these bribery allegations are true, then Wal-Mart would be violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, which bans U.S. companies from engaging in bribery when operating in foreign countries. According to an article published yesterday by The Associated Press, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is conducting its own investigation, and the U.S. Justice Department has been also conducting a criminal probe.

But Steven Restivo, senior director for community affairs at Wal-Mart, issued a statement yesterday in which he pointed that the retailer will continue to evaluate opportunities in the city.

"As we seek to open new stores across the U.S., we will continue to act with integrity, provide good jobs, expand access to low prices and lead on issues that are important to our customers like sustainability and nutrition," Restivo said. "Our track record as a good corporate citizen is well known and in large cities like New York. Residents continue to choose to shop and work at Wal-Mart."

However, New York State representative Inez Barron cited previous incidences in which Wal-Mart has been accused of illicit business practices, including exploitation of cheap foreign labor, violation of wage and labor laws and charges of sexism and racism.

"This is a fight that we have been waging for many, many years," Barron said. "Wal-Mart's slogan is low prices, but there's a high cost for those low prices."

Stern freshman Faith Namsemon said Wal-Mart should not try to conduct business in the city.

"Wal-Mart should definitely not expand into New York City since Wal-Mart is already situated in so many states and other countries — they're even trying to expand more into Africa," Namsemon said.

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