Retail conglomerate Walmart agreed to pay $81 million on Tuesday after the company admitted in a San Francisco court to dumping toxic sludge into sanitary sewers throughout the state of California and Missouri in the early to mid-2000s, resulting in children encountering ammonium sulfate powder while playing outdoors. The penalty payment is, to almost every human being, unimaginably large. But how much is $81 million to Walmart, the largest private employer in existence? Let's cut to the chase: it's not that much at all. Tuesday's payout will cost Walmart a day worth of profits.
Walmart's operating profit, according to figures made public on April 30, were $27.87 billion for the prior year. Divided by the number of minutes per year (525,949), we arrive at the amount of profit Walmart generates per minute: approximately $52,990. So $81 million (Walmart's settlement) divided by such equals 1,528, giving us the number of minutes it would take Walmart to recoup the settlement in terms of profits. And 1,528 minutes is approximately 25.4 hours, or a little over a single day. An hour past this time tomorrow, Walmart will have already earned enough to pay off their court-ordered penalty. Securing that payment, by contrast, required "a nearly decade-old investigation involving more than 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental groups," according to the Associated Press.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.