In Bentonville, Buyers Abide by Stringent Code

Not Even a Cup of Coffee Passes Across the Trading Table at the Retailer's HQ

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- In the close-knit community that is Bentonville, Ark., it's not just considered bad form to cozy
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Photo: AP

Wal-Mart has long had a strict policy that 'no goodies' can be involved in relationships between company executives and outside vendors.

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up to executives at Wal-Mart; it's a surefire way to keep from winning a piece of the chain's $312 billion business.

Strict policy
Wal-Mart executives and buyers can't take so much as a cup of coffee from vendors and aren't supposed to interact with them outside of work. In the series of small, sparse rooms inside headquarters where vendors meet with buyers, there's even a plaque that references the policy.

Before Sam Walton's death in 1992, that's pretty much the way it worked. "There was no interaction between suppliers and Wal-Mart associates other than a meeting ... where you talked about product," said Ed Clifford, president-CEO, Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, who used to work in merchandising at Wal-Mart. As vendors and suppliers flooded the region in the early to mid-'90s, slow changes began to emerge.

Coughlin ouster
The culture of no goodies grew increasingly strict after the ouster of Vice Chairman Tom Coughlin, who pleaded guilty to stealing gift cards and merchandise and filing fraudulent expense reports. "After the Coughlin thing, everyone knew you just don't fool around," said one marketing vendor based near Wal-Mart.

In 2004, Wal-Mart added 10 "guiding ethical principles" to its policies. It's why some vendors are shocked by the way the marketing division handled the agency review. "There's such a disconnect between this policy and how this review was handled," said one marketing vendor based in Bentonville, adding: "Julie was so counterculture to everything Wal-Mart was about."

Wal-Mart Ethics Code
  1. Follow the law at all times.
  2. Be honest and fair.
  3. Never manipulate, misrepresent, abuse or conceal information.
  4. Avoid conflicts of interest between work and personal life.
  5. Never discriminate.
  6. Never act unethically -- even if someone else tells you to.
  7. Never ask someone to act unethically.
  8. Seek assistance if you have questions about ethics
  9. .
  10. Cooperate with any investigation of a possible ethics violation.
  11. Report ethics violators.
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