Wal-Mart China (NYSE:WMT) might still be navigating its tainted donkey meat disaster, but one of the company’s international executives has managed to escape the drama. His name is Rob Chester, Wal-Mart’s new overseer of store-level compliance in the United States.
According to Bloomberg, before Chester’s transfer, he was the chief compliance officer of Wal-Mart’s China operations. Chester has long been the public face of the retailer’s food safety efforts in China, but in conspicuously coincidental timing, the executive was transferred back to the U.S. just days after Wal-Mart publicly acknowledged the presence of fox DNA in its donkey meat.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer announced on January 2 that it was removing donkey meat from its shelves in China after tests confirmed it contained traces of fox DNA. Wal-Mart has faced significant criticism for the incident, but it doesn’t appear as though Wal-Mart wants Chester fielding its latest round of customer complaints, as the officer was transferred to the U.S. one day after Wal-Mart publicly acknowledged its donkey-meat issue.
Chester’s transfer to the U.S. is considered a promotion, and David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, maintained to Bloomberg that the move is coincidental timing and unrelated to any specific issues in China. However, the fact that the announcement came right after the donkey meat recall leaked has still spurred significant speculation that the issue inspired Wal-Mart to make the change.
Tovar told Bloomberg that Chester’s promotion has been in the works for months, but considering the officer was the public face of the company’s food safety efforts in China up until this point, some onlookers are still calling B.S. on its “coincidental timing” claim.
China isn’t foreign to food safety violations, but Wal-Mart’s donkey meat scandal was especially damaging to the retailer because it has long touted its commitment to safety in the country. In fact, Wal-Mart is planning on opening more than 110 stores there over the next three years.
As reported by Bloomberg, Wal-Mart said in 2012 that it planned to invest $16.5 million over three years in China to upgrade its food safety in the country, but those promises didn’t keep the company from suffering a donkey meat disaster to kick off a new year. Now, Wal-Mart is being lumped with other companies that have suffered safety violations, despite the big box retailer’s assertion that it only sells high-quality products.
Paul Gallemore will take over Chester’s responsibilities in China; Wal-Mart employees were informed of the change on January 3. Gallemore is currently chief compliance offer of the company’s India operations.