Wal-Mart decided to try to reinvent itself. The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., tried to soften its image with shoppers by using the Great Recession as a way to bolster its position among its low-income shoppers. In 2007, it created a new slogan, "Save money, live better" to replace its long-time "Always Low Prices."
Wal-Mart, which like many big companies had been criticized for its large carbon footprint, also focused on what it could do to clean up the environment. For example, it worked with its expansive network of suppliers that include big Fortune 500 companies like consumer-products giants Procter & Gamble to reduce packaging.
Additionally, Wal-Mart worked on its image with employees. It improved its health care plan and provided coverage to more workers. It started offering $4 prescription drugs. The company also broke with other big corporations and endorsed a mandate that requires employers to subsidize employee health care — a key part of President Obama's health care overhaul.
When it comes to healthier eating, Wal-Mart announced a plan to lower salts, fats and sugars in thousands of the products it sells. It also agreed to cut produce prices by 2015.
To address its image with women, Wal-Mart last year rolled out sweeping measures that it says will help women around the world, including offering training of 60,000 women working in factories in places like India. It enlisted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a former critic, for a project to help up to 55,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean build businesses.
Experts say the alleged bribery scandal, first reported by The New York Times last month, is stirring up new troubles for Wal-Mart. The paper reported that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement even after its own investigators found evidence of bribes funneled through its Mexican unit.
If Wal-Mart is found to have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from paying bribes to foreign officials, the company could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars. Top Wal-Mart executives could lose their jobs or go to jail.
The Washington Post recently reported that the U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting a criminal investigation since December. The Justice Department declined to comment.
Two Democratic congressmen, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Henry Waxman of California, also have launched an investigation.
"A lot of the goodwill has been jeopardized," says Rep. E. Cummings, (D-Maryland), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told The Associated Press.
And Mexico's government says it's looking into the charges. President Felipe Calderon, who previously cited Wal-Mart's growth in the country as one of his administration's successes, says he's "very angry" about the alleged bribery scandal.
Investors are nervous, sending Wal-Mart's shares down to around $59. That's off about five percent from when news of the bribery scandal surfaced, but above the high $40s-range they were trading at during the recession.
The California State Teachers' Retirement System, one of the nation's largest pension plans, filed a lawsuit in Delaware against Wal-Mart, asking that any financial damages as a result of its leaders' actions be returned to the company. It holds more than 5.3 million shares of Wal-Mart, or well under 1 percent of its shares.
And leaders of New York City's pension funds are planning to vote their 4.7 million company shares against five Wal-Mart directors up for re-election next month.
"The bribery allegations are damaging," New York City Comptroller John Liu said in a statement. "But reports of a widespread cover-up, involving Wal-Mart's top executives, could have even more devastating consequences."
Meanwhile, some of the groups Wal-Mart has worked with say the scandal won't harm their view of the company.