Walmart to pay $81m as part of the plea after admitting dumping pollutants from stores into drains in 16 California counties
Walmart, which has endured a year of bad publicity around its US labour relations and working conditions in its overseas supply chain, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to dumping hazardous waste in numerous sites in California.
The retail giant will now pay a fine of $81m to settle misdemeanour charges around the issue, which also covers allegations of misdoings in Missouri. It brings an end to an investigation that has lasted nearly a decade.
Walmart admitted that it had negligently dumped pollutants into sanitation drains across California, and also tossed waste into local trash bins. Some material was also improperly taken to product return centers throughout the US without proper safety documentation.
Officials at Walmart pointed out that the case covered incidents that had happened between 2003 and 2005, and insisted it had now changed its procedures. “We have fixed the problem. We are obviously happy that this is the final resolution,” company spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told the Associated Press.
The illegal dumping covered by this plea took place in 16 Californian counties and was brought to light after a health department official in San Diego noticed a Walmart worker pouring bleach down a drain. Walmart, which in 2010 agreed to pay $27.6m in a similar case, says that its entire national system for dealing with hazardous waste has been comprehensively overhauled.
The guilty plea is the latest piece of bad news to put Walmart into the headlines. Earlier on Tuesday, the union supported Walmart worker organisation Our Walmart began the latest in a series of strikes aimed at highlighting what it says are low wages and abusive working conditions. Walmart workers walked out in Florida, Massachusetts and California with some aiming to stay off work until the firm holds its annual general meeting at its Arkansas headquarters on June 7.
The protests follow a series of strikes last year, including ones aimed at disrupting Black Friday – one of the the busiest shopping days in the US.
It also comes after Walmart’s role in sourcing goods from poorer countries has come under intense scrutiny. After a series of lethal disasters in the Bangladeshi garment industry, Walmart and fellow US retailer Gap have been the subject of condemnation after they resisted joining other large firms in forming a group aimed at tightening and enforcing safety regulations.
Instead, Walmart has said it will carry out its own investigations of the factories and suppliers that it uses in the country.