Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) is in hot water again after a new report suggests that the retail giant has about $76 billion stored in undisclosed foreign tax havens. The company calls the report “misleading” and insists that it is “transparent” with the IRS and the U.S. government.
A new study published by Americans for Tax Fairness, using research from the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, discovered that Wal-Mart maintains at least 78 offshore subsidiaries and branches, including 30 that have been created since 2009.
These foreign subsidiaries haven’t been inserted into any U.S. securities filings. Since 2009, overseas operations have helped Wal-Mart shed roughly $3.5 billion from its income tax bills.
Using information from publicly available documents filed in several nations by the retailer and its subsidiaries, it was discovered that Wal-Mart’s 3,500 stores in places like Brazil, Chile, China and the United Kingdom were owned by units in popular tax havens like Luxembourg, Curacao and the British Virgin Islands.
Ninety-percent of its overseas assets are owned by subsidiaries located in Luxembourg and the Netherlands, two foreign tax havens for corporations. It doesn’t have one store in Luxembourg. According to the report, its Luxembourg units reported $1.3 billion in profits between the years 2010 and 2013 and doled out less than one percent in taxes.
It is our hope that this case study about Walmart’s secretive and extensive use of tax havens causes members of Congress to rethink their approach on how to tax these offshore profits and international tax issues in general,” the report stated.
The report also noted that nearly 21 Fortune 500 companies, including Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies and high-tech firms, have more subsidiaries in overseas tax havens than Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart Dismisses the Report
The retailer described the report as incomplete and “misleading” by the union authors. The union has been actively supporting a workers’ group that has urged the Wal-Mart to make a variety of changes, like higher pay and governance reform.
Walmart has processes in place to comply with applicable SEC and IRS rules, as well as the tax laws of each country where we operate and we maintain transparency with the IRS via real-time disclosure of our business transactions and corporate structure,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said in a statement.
He added that Wal-Mart paid $6.2 billion in U.S. federal corporate taxes, which accounts for two percent of all corporate income gathered by the U.S. Treasury Department.
The company added in a statement that it maintains a “large portion of foreign earnings” in international markets, where it then reinvests these earnings. Wal-Mart said under the current federal laws, it isn’t required to pay U.S. taxes on foreign earnings until they are repatriated. Wal-Mart later referred to its 32 percent effective tax rate over the past three years.
Wal-Mart Continues to Face Controversy
This news comes as we reported Tuesday of a complaint filed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleging Wal-Mart misused charitable funds to influence cities. A 22-page complaint charges the retailer of inappropriately using funds from its Walmart Foundation to influence local politicians, weaken dissent and purchase local advertising as part of efforts to establish stores in cities like Boston, Los Angeles, New York and D.C.