New Delhi: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is to be the subject of an inquiry in India over payments related to lobbying in the US, denied that its activities were in any way unlawful.
The world’s largest retailer disclosed that it paid $25 million (Rs.135 crore) over four years to lobby US lawmakers to help it gain access to foreign markets, including India, according to a 9 December PTI report, citing company filings before the US senate. The Indian cabinet on Thursday approved the appointment of a one-man committee to look into Wal-Mart’s alleged lobbying activities in India.
Wal-Mart said the lobbying payments have no connection with anyone in India.
“These disclosures have nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials,” company spokesperson Kevin Gardner said in an email sent in response to queries. “It shows that our business interest in India was discussed with US government officials—along with 50 or more other topics during a three-month period.”
The disclosures have to be made quarterly under US law, he said. They include staffing costs, association dues and payments to consultants, he said. “This is not unique to Walmart,” Gardner said.
“All organizations which expend more than $11,500 annually on lobbying activities and employ at least one lobbyist must register and file the quarterly reports,” he said.
In the first quarter of 2012, 143 organizations reported such expenses of more than $1 million, he said, citing Washington DC publication Roll Call.
“Our company naturally has discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and we disclose this in accordance with the law,” Gardner said.
The committee, which will also probe whether Wal-Mart undertook any activities in India in contravention of local laws, is expected to submit its report within three months.
Bharti Walmart Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between the US retailer and India’s Bharti Enterprises Pvt. Ltd, is currently engaged in the wholesale business.
The cabinet decision came on the day Union commerce, industry and textiles minister Anand Sharma met Wal-Mart’s international CEO Doug McMillon in Davos and assured him that India’s policy on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail won’t be reversed. India allowed FDI of as much as 51% in multi-brand retail in September last year. The Wal-Mart disclosures provoked a storm of protest by political parties that had been opposed to the move. This prompted the government to agree to an inquiry.