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Wal-Mart annual shareholders meeting sparks protests

Protesters hope to oust some Wal-Mart board members and push for more corporate transparency in the wake of allegations of widespread bribery in the company's Mexican subsidiary.

May 30, 2012|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is facing a wave of protests this week pushing for company leadership changes at its annual meeting Friday.

The goal of protesters, organizers said, is to oust some Wal-Mart board members and push for more corporate transparency in the wake of allegations of widespread bribery in the company's Mexican subsidiary.

Among the protests is a parade Thursday in Washington, D.C., planned by community activists and some Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.

Shareholders and Wal-Mart leaders will gather for the meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., at the Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas.

The election of 16 corporate directors is on the agenda, in addition to shareholder proposals. These proposals seek to increase disclosure of company political contributions, as well as to investigate and report on the effectiveness of incentive-based compensation programs for Wal-Mart executives and whether these programs encourage the executives to look out for the company's long-term financial health.

Wal-Mart has recommended voting for all the directors on the ballot and voting against all the proposals put forth by shareholders.

Directors up for reelection include Chief Executive Michael Duke and Chairman S. Robson Walton.

The $228-billion California Public Employees' Retirement System last week said it was withholding its support for the election of nine Wal-Mart directors pending "a thorough and independent investigation into the bribery allegations" involving the company's largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico.

The smaller California State Teachers' Retirement System said it would vote against the election of all 16 Wal-Mart directors for similar reasons. Five New York City pension funds said that they would not support some of the Wal-Mart directors.

Allegations that Wal-Mart executives in Mexico paid millions in bribes to government officials there to smooth the way for new stores were first reported in April by the New York Times. Federal law prohibits U.S. corporations from paying bribes in foreign countries.

In response, Wal-Mart said it is investigating the matter and wants to have an effective anti-corruption program in every country where it operates.

shan.li@latimes.com

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