US: Walmart Fined Two Minutes of Revenue for Environmental Crimes

Published: 31 May 2013


After eight years of investigations, involving more than 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental groups, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., plead guilty on Tuesday in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Kansas City to federal environmental crimes and civil violations, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.  The world's largest retailer admitted to routinely violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of toxic materials, and also pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by neglecting to properly handle pesticides.

Wal-Mart will pay approximately $81.6 million as a result of the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Adding  previous actions filed by the states of California and Missouri, Wal-Mart will pay a total of more than $110 million in fines, assessments, civil penalties and community service payments.

According to documents filed in San Francisco federal court, the company had no guidelines and no training in place regarding the management and disposal of hazardous waste prior to 2006. Wal-Mart routinely illegally dumped toxic materials into municipal trash bins and sewers, or transported them without proper safety documentation to product return centers throughout the United States.

''Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than two million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart's contract. Today's criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws,'' said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. Wal-Mart also processed damaged household products including pesticides for reuse and resale. Because no proper oversight was provided, toxic pesticides were mixed together and sold to customers without required registration and without mandatory information regarding usage and ingredients.

Wal-Mart has 10,800 stores in 27 countries under 69 different names plus e-commerce stores in 10 countries, and employs 2.2 million worldwide. It is currently America's largest public corporation according to the Fortune 500 list . A recent financial report shows that the retailer's estimated revenues in 2013 amount to approximately $469 billion. The $110 million fine would amount to 0.02% of estimated 2013 revenue. It takes the company about two minutes to record $110 million in sales.

''By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides, and other materials in violation of federal laws, Wal-Mart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies,'' said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

This is not the first time Wal-Mart has gotten into trouble with the law. There is an entire website dedicated to tracking litigation against Wal-Mart. Most notably, a New York Times report which surfaced last year alleged that Wal-Mart executives paid significant bribes to expedite the retailer’s expansion in Mexico. Investigation into this case, as well as other alleged corrupt dealings in Brazil, India, China and other countries, are ongoing.