Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson


Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

Get my RSS |

Walmart Uses 22 Shell Companies to Hide an Incredible Amount of Money in Luxembourg

| Wed Jun. 17, 2015 4:04 PM EDT

Overseas tax evasion by American corporations has become a political hot button of late: It haunted Mitt Romney in 2012, spurred President Barack Obama last year to crack down on so-called inversions, and has since been seized upon as a 2016 campaign issue by Hillary Clinton. American companies now have an estimated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits stashed overseas, big sums of which belong to Apple, General Electric, and Microsoft.

Walmart is also a major overseas tax dodger, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness, a liberal-leaning think tank and advocacy group. The world's largest retailer has stashed $64 billion worth of assets in Luxembourg, Europe's smallest and most notorious tax haven. These assets—including cash and the ownership of real estate holdings around the world—are worth more than Luxembourg's entire gross domestic product. If they were liquidated and sprinkled around, it would amount to more than $100,000 per acre in this tiny country of 1,000 square miles that lacks a single Walmart store. Walmart has so much wealth in Luxembourg, in fact, that it could pay several times over to plaster the entire country in Nexus Granite Self-Adhesive Vinyl Floor Tiles, which sell at Walmart for $8.99 per box.

Since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

In fact, most Luxembourgers can afford flooring that's considerably more posh. A primary source of the luxe in this city-state of some 500,000 people is its corporate tax rate. Between 2010 and 2013, Walmart reported paying less than 1 percent in tax to Luxembourg on $1.3 billion in profits. Walmart also generates $1.5 billion worth of tax deductions in Luxembourg each year by making "phantom interest payments" to its home office in the United States, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. These benefits may explain why, since 2011, Walmart has transferred more than $45 billion in assets to a network of 22 shell companies in Luxembourg, the report says.

Walmart disputed the report's findings: "This is the same union-supported group that regularly issues flawed reports on Walmart to promote their agenda rather than the facts," the company said in a statement to USA Today. "This latest report includes incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers." But the retailing giant did not go into any further detail.

UPDATE 6:00 p.m. PST: In an email to Mother Jones, a Walmart representative detailed the company's objections to the report:

When calculating total assets, this calculation incorrectly includes intercompany assets, primarily investment in our wholly-owned subsidiaries and intercompany loans which both eliminate on consolidation.  The methodology is flawed and based upon statutory reports prior to intercompany eliminations which occur during consolidation.

As disclosed in our last form 10K (footnote 14), the Walmart International segment has total assets after intercompany eliminations of $80.5 billion, the vast majority of which are retail store buildings, fixtures, inventory and distribution facilities physically located in the countries where we serve customers.

Advertise on

Honduran President Decides That Going to an Event Called "Disrupting Democracy" Isn't Such a Good Idea

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 5:00 AM EDT
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.

On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group of investors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.

Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.

"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.

"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.

Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.

Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."

One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.

Google's New Diversity Stats Are Only Slightly Less Embarrassing Than They Were Last Year

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 3:36 PM EDT

Around this time last year, Google shocked Silicon Valley by voluntarily releasing statistics on the diversity of its workforce. The move helped shame other large tech companies into doing the same, and the picture that emerged wasn't pretty: In most cases, only 10 percent of the companies' overall employees were black or Latino, compared to 27 percent in the US workforce as a whole. For its own part, Google admitted that "we're miles from where we want to be," and pledged to do more to cultivate minority and female tech talent.

Now Google has an update: Its 2015 diversity stats, released yesterday, show that it has moved inches, not miles, toward a workforce that reflects America. The representation of female techies ticked up by 1 percentage point (from 17 to 18 percent), Asians gained 1 point, and whites, though still the majority, slipped by 1 point. Otherwise, the numbers are unchanged:


"With an organization our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time," Nancy Lee, Google's vice president of people operations, told the Guardian. Last year, Google spent $115 million on diversity initiatives and dispatched its own engineers to historically black colleges and universities to teach introductory computer science courses and help graduating students prepare for job searches. But unlike Intel, another big tech company that has prioritized diversity, Google has not set firm goals for diversifying its talent pool.

"While every company cannot match Intel's ambitious plan, they can set concrete, measurable goals, targets, and timetables," said a statement from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who last year played a key role in convincing Google and other companies to disclose their diversity stats. "If they don't measure it, they don't mean it."

Wed Oct. 14, 2009 12:33 PM EDT
Tue Oct. 13, 2009 5:48 PM EDT
Fri Oct. 9, 2009 6:02 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 8, 2009 1:43 PM EDT
Thu Oct. 8, 2009 6:02 AM EDT
Wed Oct. 7, 2009 1:49 PM EDT
Mon Oct. 5, 2009 6:24 PM EDT
Mon Sep. 28, 2009 1:18 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 22, 2009 5:13 PM EDT
Mon Sep. 21, 2009 12:24 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 17, 2009 5:56 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 17, 2009 4:18 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 16, 2009 4:29 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 16, 2009 1:51 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 16, 2009 12:01 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 15, 2009 3:51 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 10, 2009 1:12 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 9, 2009 12:13 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:29 PM EDT
Fri Sep. 4, 2009 3:14 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 3, 2009 5:05 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 3, 2009 12:34 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 2, 2009 3:22 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 2, 2009 12:48 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 1, 2009 5:32 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 1, 2009 3:30 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 1, 2009 12:44 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 31, 2009 12:49 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 28, 2009 1:39 PM EDT
Thu Aug. 27, 2009 3:03 PM EDT
Wed Aug. 26, 2009 2:00 PM EDT
Thu Aug. 13, 2009 12:53 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:00 AM EDT
Fri Jul. 24, 2009 7:55 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 23, 2009 7:00 PM EDT
Wed Jul. 22, 2009 1:11 AM EDT
Tue Jul. 21, 2009 1:43 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 20, 2009 1:30 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 17, 2009 7:23 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 17, 2009 4:05 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 16, 2009 12:00 PM EDT
Tue Jul. 14, 2009 4:17 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 13, 2009 12:40 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 10, 2009 6:19 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 10, 2009 4:33 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 10, 2009 2:42 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 9, 2009 3:18 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 9, 2009 11:38 AM EDT
Wed Jul. 8, 2009 1:34 PM EDT
Sat Jul. 4, 2009 11:44 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT
Thu Oct. 18, 2007 2:00 AM EDT